ALBERTA, Canada — On July 26, 2021, Representative Michael McCaul introduced a new bill to the House with the intention of combating global malnutrition. H.R.4693, the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act of 2021, has since been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill aims “to advance targeted and evidence-based interventions for the prevention and treatment of global malnutrition and to improve the coordination of such programs.”
A Spike in World Hunger
According to the United Nations, there was an intense exacerbation of world hunger in 2020, with much of the rise in hunger relating to the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic revealed the already existing brutal food insecurity struggles in many nations while triggering economic recessions and jeopardizing access to food. A report estimates that “up to 811 million people,” which equates to one-tenth of the world, suffered from undernourishment in 2020.
There was a significant increase in malnutrition in Africa, in particular, where 21% of the population suffers from undernourishment. This prevalence is two times the rate “of any other region.” The effects of malnutrition and food insecurity impact children the most. Data from 2020 indicates that more than 149 million children younger than 5 suffered from stunting (“too short for their age”) and more than 45 million children suffered from wasting (“too thin for their height”).
Moreover, the combined impacts of environmental factors, COVID-19 and political conflicts place malnutrition as an overwhelming concern in the global community. Malnutrition has detrimental impacts on a child’s physical and cognitive development and is “largely irreversible, perpetuating illness, poverty and inequality.” The United Nations projects that, in war-ridden Yemen, 2.3 million children younger than 5 may “suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021.” The current rate of malnutrition in Yemen falls “among the highest levels” since the start of the conflict and violence in 2015.
Breaking Down the Bill
One of the key pillars of the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act of 2021 is increasing coverage of nutrition interventions, including “coordinated deployment of prenatal nutrient supplements, breastfeeding support, vitamin A supplementation and specialized nutritious food products for the treatment of acute malnutrition.” The bill aims to prioritize children younger than 5 along with “pregnant and lactating women,” as these groups are most vulnerable to the impacts of malnutrition.
Partnering with governments ensures support to develop policies to treat malnutrition while “leveraging investments to strengthen health systems.” There is mention of coordinating with “bilateral and multilateral donors,” U.N. agencies, NGOs and the private sector to fund projects and ensure the “sustainability of nutrition interventions.”
The strategy will identify “priority countries” according to specific criteria, such as “the prevalence of severe malnutrition among children under the age of 5 and pregnant and lactating women.” The plan will also prioritize “high-need, underserved, marginalized or impoverished communities.” However, countries must display “strong political commitment” and have existing nutrition strategies already in place. This requirement ensures that the plan to combat malnutrition in a select country will be effective and impactful. Once priorities are defined, the next steps are to form evaluation strategies and identify opportunities to expand treatment and prevent malnutrition.
If passed, the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act of 2021 has the potential to significantly reduce the prevalence of malnutrition globally and alleviate the severe impacts that come along with it.
– Alysha Mohamed