Responding to the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa: The role of nutrition
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In the chapter dealing with education and health, the report of the influential Commission for Africa prioritises basic health systems, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. In contrast, nutrition is given less than half a page and is reduced to parasite control and micronutrient support. Such neglect of nutrition is hard to understand in the context of increasing hunger and malnutrition across the continent. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the proportion of underweight children has stagnated and the absolute numbers have actually increased in the last decade. It has been pointed out that if current trends continue sub-Saharan Africa will achieve the Millennium Development Goal for child mortality around 2115 – one century after the target date. Quite clearly those concerned with nutrition need to more powerfully advocate the role of nutrition in lifting Africa out of the spiral of poverty. The present paper argues that to achieve this requires an understanding not just of the critical role of nutrition for health and development (both individual and national), but also of how recent global changes are interacting with changes in food production and supply, other determinants of maternal and child health, and the role and capacity of the state to tackle malnutrition in Africa. It concludes by suggesting some responses that nutritionists could now be making.