Not kidding

Children in developing countries continue to suffer, claims UNICEF

Published: Monday 15 April 2002

it could
be termed as heart rending. According to a recent report, more than 28 million children under age five suffer from the debilitating effects of malnutrition in developing countries. At least 10 million die due to 'mostly preventable' diseases and some 600 million live in abject poverty. These are some of the mind blowing facts listed out in the report by United Nations Children's Fund (unicef), called The state of World's Children 2002. The report states that nearly half the children in South Asia and less than one-third in sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished. "The familiar symbol of the visibly starving child misrepresents the problem. In reality, most malnutrition is totally invisible," states the report.

Frequent illness, not lack of food, is the major factor responsible for the persisting problem. The overwhelming majority of malnourished children live in homes with enough food, according to the report. Their condition can be attributed to illness that causes a lack of appetite. Furthermore, calories are used up fighting infections, and vomiting and diarrhoea drain away all the vital nutrients.

The vast majority of malnourished children develop the condition in the first three years of life -- a critical period for brain and body growth. "The greatest tragedy of malnutrition is that it prevents children from reaching their full potential," said Roger Moore, former James Bond actor and a unicef goodwill ambassador.

On the up side, the report said 18 countries, including China, Mexico, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, reduced child malnutrition by 25 per cent or more. More than 70 per cent of the developing world's households now use iodised salt, thereby protecting an estimated 12 million children a year from suffering brain damage as a result of iodine deficiency. Vitamin A supplements now reach half the world's children, saving about 333,000 lives a year. And the decline in breast-feeding -- key to good nutrition -- appears to have ended. The study was conducted in more than 100 countries. Its figures were compiled from the largest-ever data collection on infant well-being.

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