Action Against Hunger: Innovative Research to End Hunger

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TACOMA, Washington — Action Against Hunger is a global movement at the forefront of eradicating life-threatening hunger, combining charity with research. AAH stands out among other charitable organizations for its functionality and lingering impact, earning the top Charity Navigator rating for 14 consecutive years in a row. Its field staff has saved lives in more than 45 countries and assisted more than 17 million people all the while setting a new standard for humanitarian work.

Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger is an evidence-based organization that conducts research in the very areas it intervenes, demonstrating that research in humanitarian and crisis contexts can improve relief programs. The organization’s research confirms the efficiency of policies and practices and innovates better ways to deal with hunger. With the cooperation of institutional funding and partners, its team of dedicated researchers and innovators endeavor in projects to find long-term solutions.

The organization’s strategic 2015 to 2020 plan for research and innovation entails three focus-areas: the prevention of undernutrition, the treatment of undernutrition and the effectiveness of the emergency response. The organization has various ongoing and completed projects. In 2018 alone, AAH contributed to 27 active research and innovation projects in 25 countries.

Prevention of Undernutrition

In disadvantaged communities, a lack of access and the inability to purchase food are just a few causes of undernutrition. Undernutrition is especially harmful to children as it could stunt growth and challenge cognitive development. In its extreme cases, severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is a life-threatening condition. Detecting undernutrition early on is a crucial preventative measure. Examples of these measures include:

  • The Research on Food Assistance For Nutritional Impact (REFANI) project: This study strengthened evidence on the nutritional impact and cost-effectiveness of cash and voucher-based food assistance in Niger, Pakistan and Somalia. Most charities with outreach programs aid the impoverished with imported supplies and food. Food assistance differs in allowing beneficiaries to directly access food in their local markets. Though this is not the most effective practice in war-torn nations that rely heavily on imported food, cash transfers have positive impacts on food security.
  • The Click-MUAC Project: This project developed and tested new MUAC (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference) bracelets to increase their sensitivity and specificity, making them easier and more accessible to mothers and caregivers. Nearly 17 million children under five suffer from SAM worldwide. Practical MUAC bracelets help detect SAM and increase regular screening at the community level.

The Treatment of Undernutrition

Treatment requires managing the consequences of undernutrition. Malnourished children often lack access to life-saving treatment and even when they receive the treatment they risk relapse.

  • Identifying the Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Relapse After Recovery from Severe Acute Malnutrition study: this is the first study of its kind as it follows children in four African countries after recovery to better understand relapse and how they might adapt treatment programs for a more sustainable recovery. Preventing relapse is cost-efficient as it frees up resources for others that might need it. The study’s final results have yet to be released.
  • Innovations and COVID-19 Adaptations in the Management of Child Wasting Project: The global pandemic is another curveball on a list of inconveniences for collective actions taken against hunger. As a result, AAH collaborates with UNICEF and the CDC in this ongoing project to safely continue to provide aid in cases of acute malnutrition and learn from this unprecedented event for the future.

Effectiveness of an Emergency Response

AAH strives to improve the quality of humanitarian responses by encouraging readiness and tackling undernutrition ahead of time. The work attributed to these efforts includes intervention programs, preventative measures and strategic models.

  • The Modelling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition (MERIAM) project: MERIAM is an innovative modeling system to identify a nutrition-related crisis and address it before the population is affected. The system consists of econometric and computational metrics. It is meant to provide a timelier and cheaper alternative to traditional methods of surveillance which account for repeated cross-sectional surveys and community-based sentinel monitoring, among others. Eradicating hunger in conflict-prone nations is a challenge, and this type of project would ensure a quicker response to malnutrition.
  • The Baby-Friendly Spaces (BFS) program: This is a successful program in Ethiopia which aims to reduce nutritional and psychological vulnerabilities in mothers and their children. Rarely do humanitarian programs intervene in breastfeeding and feeding counseling, maternal psychosocial support and child psychosocial stimulation, but this program does all that and more. AAH recognizes the importance of maternal mental health has on child development. The program takes place in a refugee camp in Ethiopia where approximately 74,000 South Sudanese refugees reside having fled from war and hunger.

AAH makes most of its expertise and findings accessible to the public and sectors of humanitarian work. All of the projects and yearly reports are displayed in the Action Against Hunger’s Knowledge Hub. Notably, the organization attributed to 104 research publications between 2017 and 2018, and a good portion were published in peer-reviewed journals.

Action Against Hunger is a reputable, innovative organization that incorporates research and charity in paving the way for more sustainable, cost-efficient solutions to eradicating global hunger. With further funding and greater outreach, AAH can change humanitarian work for the better.

—Johana Vazquez
Photo: Flickr

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