Child malnutrition is one of the most startling scourges of the developing world. By impairing the immune responses, physical efficiency, cognitive abilities and psychosocial development of the adults of tomorrow, malnutrition condemns the future of a country.
The government of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa has vowed to eliminate child malnutrition in less than four years, even though one in five children in the country is still below average height for their age. In doing so, the government has set itself the challenge of removing its very own sword of Damocles.
Ecuador is in a ‘young’ country, where 13% of the population is aged under five years old. According to UNICEF, at least one in five of those children suffers from chronic malnutrition. In rural and indigenous populations, the figure is almost double. For example, in Chimborazo province which has a high indigenous population, the malnutrition rate reaches 44% against a national average of 19%, according to the Unicef office in Ecuador.
According to Jeannette Sánchez, Ecuador’s Coordinating Minister for Social Development, the elimination of chronic child malnutrition and the expansion of the country’s social security system are the key goals in the government’s agenda.
According to her ministry’s own statistics , three hundred and fifty thousand children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, which manifests itself as a result of prolonged periods of food deprivation, pronounced weight loss and stunted growth.
Compared with just 2.8% in the year 2000, Ecuador currently invests 8.3% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the social sector, equating to approximately 4.7 billion dollars.
As a result the poverty rate fell by 5% between December 2006 and December 2010. This figure fell by an additional 3% in the last six months. Furthermore, the poverty severity index indicates that the poor are now ‘less poor’.
The Ecuadorian government is promoting breastfeeding among mothers and supplementary food programs aimed at pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding children aged six months and over.
The ‘Aliméntate Ecuador’ program focuses on families comprising mothers and children under five; it is an integrated programme which provides them with essential micronutrients to foster normal development in children.
President Correa has explained that in order to monitor individual child development, his government is offering a monetary incentive to pregnant women. This incentive is designed to encourage them to attend medical check-ups and bring babies less than a year old to appointments.
One of the causes of infant mortality is undernourishment among mothers-to-be and so, according to Correa, this program has been created to ensure that these women and their new-born children receive medical attention
It is hoped that these measures will transform the country’s health profile. Currently 16% of children are born underweight and six out of ten pregnant women and seven out of ten children under one year suffer from anaemia caused by iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency is one of the world’s large-scale nutritional problems; international organisations estimate that anaemia caused by lack of iron affects between 20-50% of the global population.
Ecuador is combating iron deficiency through the provision of food supplements containing nutrients which are essential for the integral development of children from the gestation period onwards. As a result, the rate of chronic malnutrition has decreased.
Under the current government this rate decreased by 7% between 2006 and 2010, particularly among children born after 2007. This represents an important change in the historical rate of decline of this indicator.
Ecuador has all the potential to implement food sovereignty, a strategic objective adopted in the 2008 Constitution and in the ‘Ley Orgánica del Régimen de Soberanía Alimentaria’, [Organic Law on Food Sovereignty].
For food sovereignty to be a right for all, the Ecuadorian government has proposed guaranteeing permanent and effective access to the foodstuffs that are essential for human development; to eliminate child malnutrition, and to protect national production in ways that are fair, supportive and in harmony with the environment.
(Translated by Emma Hartgen – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)