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Susanne Courtney  Headshot

Would You Pay $45 To Turn a Starving Child Healthy?

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It's hard to believe that just a few decades ago, the best health experts in the world did not understand how to treat children dying of starvation. Remarkably, we were largely unaware that malnutrition was something that needed specific treatment strategies!

It is no exaggeration to say that in just two and a half decades, a nutrition revolution has been taking place.

It's common knowledge that millions of children in the world still suffer from hunger. But did you know that with proper treatment, between 90 - 95 per cent of children can regain full health? And that full treatment can take just 45 days, and cost a mere $45?

We have solutions to hunger. But it wasn't that long ago we didn't.

In 1986, I was living in West Africa. At that time, many development efforts focused on building hospitals for health care (ignoring the fact that there weren't enough healthcare workers to staff the hospitals). In those years, the NGOs and health centres simply didn't have the resources, the knowledge or the tools to save children from a severe lack of nutrition.

It was then that my daughter was born. I look at her today -- all grown up at the age of 27 -- and I'm reminded of all the lives we are now able to save, and just how far we've come from the 1980s.

What changed? Here is the revolutionary part: in the 1990s there were two innovations that transformed how we treat hunger.

In 1994, world renowned ACF experts pioneered the F-100 milk formula, a nutrient-rich product high in energy and protein, which could be given to even the most severely malnourished babies and children. Administered at therapeutic feeding centres, the F-100 formula led to a dramatic reduction in deaths. The product was so revolutionary that it has been compared to insulin for the lives it saved.

While truly life-saving, the F-100 milk formula was limited in its use. It needs to be mixed with clean water (not always available) and administered intravenously in a health facility (not always accessible).

Then in 1996, an innovative treatment was born that dramatically expanded access to treatment for hunger. Developed in France by researchers and a private company, ACF tested and piloted in the field ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs). Similar to a protein bar, this new product (brand name: Plumpy'nut) requires no water or refrigeration. RUTFs revolutionized the treatment of severe acute malnutrition. Simply put: they save lives.

Of course, we have much more work to do. It's atrocious that 17 million children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

At Action Against Hunger we passionately believe no child should die of hunger. We provide an integrated approach including nutrition, food security, clean water and related health services - all with a focus on preventing and eliminating hunger.

March, declared "Nutrition Month" by the Dieticians of Canada, is an excellent time to recognize the tremendous advances that have taken place in understanding and treating malnourishment.

We now know what to do and how little it costs to spare children and their communities the devastating consequences of severe and chronic hunger. Continued action is needed. This Nutrition Month, we are asking all Canadians to re-affirm their commitment to ending hunger everywhere, for everyone.

The Nutrition Revolution is far from over. Together we must ensure that no child dies of hunger.