Submitted by Bruce Cogill Ph.D.
Chief, USAID’s Nutrition Division

Administrator Raj Shah joined a historic gathering of the First Ladies of Africa, who convened to declare nutrition as a critical priority for eliminating poverty.

Nutrition is a top priority of both Feed the Future (FTF) and the Global Health Initiative (GHI). To reduce the growing burden of malnutrition, Dr. Shah announced $1 million to expand USAID and Global Alliance to Improve Nutrition (GAIN) efforts to improve heath and nutrition.

“These investments will help vulnerable families improve the health of their children by giving them access to diversified, quality diets and empowering them to make better informed decisions in areas like water, sanitation, and hygiene,” said Dr. Shah.  “All these combined efforts are focused on the critical 1,000 day window of opportunity from pregnancy to the first 2 years of life.”

This partnership was developed because nutrition is the catalyst for improving the lives of millions of people living in extreme poverty, and that failure to meet the nutritional needs of developing children has permanent, irreversible effects.  As the connections between health, economic development and food security become increasingly clear; nutrition is emerging as a central priority.

Malnutrition refers to undernutrition, which includes stunting, wasting, and deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients); and over-nutrition, which includes obesity or over-consumption of specific nutrients.

Undernutrition, one of the world’s most serious human development issues, kills an estimated 3.5 million children annually and causes more than a third of all deaths in children under the age of five. The Lancet estimates that 13 million children are born annually with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) resulting in low birthweight, 112 million are underweight and 178 million children under 5 years suffer from stunting, the vast majority in south-central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In Africa, one in four women and children are malnourished. It is a result of insufficient food intake, inadequate care, and infectious diseases.  Good nutrition in early childhood is essential to achieve one’s full physical and intellectual potential.

Tomorrow, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, and Micheal Martin T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, will co-host an event “1000 Days to Improve Child Nutrition” to place international attention on child malnutrition, focused on the 1,000-day window of opportunity (beginning with a woman’s pregnancy and continuing until a child is two years old).

The “1,000 Days” event at the MDG Summit provides a political moment which will put in place some commitments to work together and deliver results which make a significant contribution to the achievement of the MDG 1 hunger and nutrition, MDG 4 child survival and MDG 5 maternal health targets.

The focus on these vital 1,000 days has been building since 2006, when the World Bank issued a 272-page report on Repositioning Nutrition as Central to Development (PDF, 1.56MB). It gained momentum in 2008 when Lancet published a landmark, five-part series on maternal and child undernutrition.

The Obama administration already has made improved nutrition a critical objective in its Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives, and joined the U.N. and multilateral agencies, donor and developing countries, nongovernmental organizations, foundations and the private sector in shaping and embracing new international guidelines called the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Framework.