G8 Must Not Waver on Commitment to Food Security and Nutrition

This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.

In 1981, I was a nurse midwife on the Thai/Cambodian border tending to refugees fleeing the terror of Pol Pot. There, I dealt with a mini "baby boom." One side effect of chronic malnutrition -- which was a tragic hallmark for those who survived the genocide -- is very low fertility. Several months later, as nutrition levels started to improve, fertility rates shot up. But for some women, their nutritional state, and particularly low iron levels, led to far too many preventable deaths from hemorrhage, sepsis and other complications. Many babies were either stillborn, pre-term or suffered complications in their first days of life, much of this linked to poor maternal nutrition. And, of course, if a mother died, that child's chances of survival were minimal.

I remember vividly one baby whose mother died. One of the lay midwives who was lactating fed the child for some days while her own baby was suffering. So she had to reduce the amount for the motherless child. At the 11th hour, as the baby was slipping away, a couple who had lost their children in the genocide came forward to adopt the little baby boy. I have no doubt that, without that, he would have been another tragic malnutrition-related statistic. Hopefully he is now a thriving 31-year-old adult.

Last week, Save the Children, in its State of the World's Mothers 2012 report, pointed out that malnutrition, related to under-nutrition

is an underlying cause of death for 2.6 million children each year, and leaves millions more with lifelong physical and mental impairments. More than 170 million children do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential because of poor nutrition in the earliest months of life.

This week, G8 leaders gathering in Camp David for their annual summit will have a golden opportunity to rectify that tragedy. We hope that continued economic challenges facing the leaders do not detract from the plight of those who continue to be affected by malnutrition, especially women, children and newborns.

In 2007 and 2008, after increases in food prices caused riots in more than 30 countries and increased the number of hungry people to a historic high of more than 1 billion, G8 leaders came together in L'Aquila, Italy and launched the $22 billion L'Aquila Food Security Initiative to support smallholder agriculture.

A year later, in similar fashion, G8 leaders at their summit in Muskoka, Canada, responding to frightening levels of child and maternal mortality, announced the historic $5 billion Muskoka Initiative on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health which we considered a game-changer in terms of donor commitments to saving the lives and improving the health of those most vulnerable to preventable disease.

We are pleased to see that the Obama Administration, the host of this year's G8, has included food security on the G8 agenda and hope that the discussions address not only the production of nutritious food, but also its availability and consumption by vulnerable populations. In particular, we hope G8 leaders commit to action and investment to improve nutrition for mothers and children during the critical 1,000 days from pregnancy to age 2, when nutrition can have a lifelong impact on a child's future in terms of both health and development.

We see reason for hope, and call on the G8 leaders to maintain and build on their 2009 and 2010 pledges to invest in food security and in nutrition for pregnant women, newborn babies and children, in order to significantly reduce under-nutrition over the next 5-10 years.

We are grateful to countries like the U.S., Canada and Spain for making large increases to food security in the first year after the L'Aquila pledge, according to a report released May 4 by ActionAid, and call on other countries to do the same.

Furthermore, my organization and three other leading global health partnerships have sent a letter to G8 leaders asking for the inclusion of a commitment for global health in the G8 Summit declaration and accountability report.

We urge G8 members to support the achievement of the goals set forth in the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health which commits to saving the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015.

More specifically, we hope G8 leaders will commit to nutrition targets set forth by the World Health Organization, and will measure their efforts in promoting food security against the following targets:

· A 40 percent reduction of the global number of children under five who are stunted;

· A reduction by two-thirds of low birth weight

· A reduction by half of anemia in women of reproductive age;

· No increase in the prevalence of overweight children;

· And an increase in exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life.

We must ensure that many more babies survive the perilous 1,000 days from pregnancy to age 2, like that baby boy whose survival I witnessed in 1981.

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