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HMG7100 Foundations of Public Health Assignment - Victoria University, Australia

Topic - Health Policy Briefing Paper

Task - For this assessment you will prepare a policy brief on the global health issue. The policy brief is a document which outlines the rationale for choosing a particular policy alternative or course of action in a current policy debate. The purpose of the policy brief is to convince the target audience of the urgency of the current problem and the need to adopt the preferred alternative or course of action outlined.

Answer - The increasing global risk of stunting and wasting related to malnutrition in children under the age of 5

Background: What is happening, and why?

The UNICEF (2019) reports that for children under the age of 5, more than 50 per cent of the deaths can be attributed to malnutrition. The pace at which stunting has been declining is extremely slow, which implies that the rates of malnutrition are still very high.

If the nutrition provided to a child in the first three years after birth is not sufficient, there is a high chance that the growth will be stunted, coupled with impairment in cognitive abilities and poor learning capacity.

The fact that nutrition has been recognized as being one of the pillars of economic and social development is a positive step in the direction of eliminating malnutrition and poverty among infants and young children. The World Health Organization (2012) has also outlined numerous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are aimed at the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger on a global scale. These goals are interrelated with child malnutrition, gender equality and women empowerment, and universal availability of primary education, along with efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and improve overall maternal health, especially in developing countries.

The World Health Organization has a specific set of standards when it comes to monitoring the growth and development of babies. These attributes are based on infants who are mainly breast-fed, and belong to varied ethnicities (WHO, 2009). However, the genetic and ethnic differences have little or no impact on the nutritional outlook of the infants. These standards were essentially established to monitor the prevalence of severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Children who are below the SAM level are exposed to a higher risk of dying from lack of sufficient food and nutrition.

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Stunting

The rates of stunting are high in the African and South-Asian regions, and it has been estimated that around one-third of the children in those areas are affected. The rate of stunting is low in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the individual rates for the neighboring countries are quite varied. In 2018, one among every four children under the age of 5 suffered from malnutrition and stunted growth. Although there has been a decline from the 2000 evaluation of 32.5 per cent malnourishment to 21.9 per cent in 2018, the African region has always dominated the occurrence.

Wasting

On a global scale, 49 million children under the age of 5 were wasted, among which more than 50 per cent lived in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The prevalence of wasting in the South Asian region is a cause of alarm, which calls for serious intervention, given the rate is as high as 15.2 per cent.

It has been observed that for countries where it had been possible to collect data, the rate of stunting and wasting was higher among boys as compared to girls. This perhaps can be linked to the fact that boys are more likely to be born in a premature condition than girls, which puts them at a higher risk of sustaining poorer health, due to the low birth weight. Thus, this can be treated as a perceivable gender-based disparity when it comes to stunting among young children.

The reality in developing countries

In most developing countries, women are still the ones who have a key role to play when it comes to maintaining the household and caring for the children. Thus, this makes them the primary caregivers for the children, especially during the initial years after birth since men are not biologically equipped to feed the babies. Thus, the common perception is that mothers are responsible for the cognitive development, health and other necessities for a child. This indirectly indicates that the status of the women in the developing countries is linked with the condition of the children, and with the quality of care they receive during the first 5 years.

Food security

Food security is when individuals have access to sufficient quantities of food that are vital for sustaining a healthy lifestyle. Thus, it is one aspect that is indispensable when it comes to determining the condition of a child's health and nutrition levels. Availability of food on the national level has a positive effect on the malnutrition among children, coupled together with the per capita availability for each person. In most developing nations, especially such as in the regions of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the educational status of women, together with the national food availability rate are important determinants of the extent to which children are taken care of.

Rise in food prices

Prices of food products have been soaring speedily in the recent few years, which has further undermined the capacity of the poorer sections to buy food for their children and for themselves. This has posed a fresh threat to the developing countries, and has forced many poor families to go without food, thereby paving the way for malnutrition to be ushered in.

The time period before the sudden price hike had been rather unusual, with the prices falling steadily during the 1950s. However, with the onset of the 2000s, the structural changes in terms of both demand and supply underwent massive changes, as forecasted by the International Monetary Fund(Overseas Development Institute, 2008).The changes in the price of oil have also added to this sharp rise, mostly due to the contribution they have towards the manufacturing of chemical fertilisers.

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National income

The per capita growth in terms of national income has a role to play in terms of women's education as well as the availability of food. Thus, an increase in the per capita income is a very powerful force when it comes to reducing the instances of child malnutrition. As the income of the countries increases, the reduction of malnutrition cases will take place, especially in case of infants and children below 5 years of age. The income generated can be allocated to the arenas that need it, such as women's health and education, child welfare, and so on.

Strategies for action

Urgent action is necessary for combating the levels of stunting and wasting in children below 5 years of age. Resources necessary for alleviating the plight of the poor and needy are important to lessen the plight of the children.

Access to nutrition

Having access to good nutrition is the right of every child, as children who are well-nourished are better at learning and participating in the different activities within the community, while being able to grow in a healthy manner.

Combating malnutrition to reduce the instances of stunting and wasting is necessary since more than 50 per cent of the deaths under the age of 5 have some link or the other with malnutrition (UNICEF USA, 2018). These chronic cases of malnutrition result in irreversible damage to their bodies, thereby inhibiting the normal course of growth in terms of cognition and general development.

Compensations

Transferring compensations in the form of cash is one of the many strategies that need to be pursued in order to curb the instances of malnutrition among young children. The families can then make use of the cash donations to buy food that would help their children get the nutrients they need and reduce the chances of them suffering from illnesses and even death at such a young age.

UNICEF has been working with certain therapeutic food brands by purchasing their product to supply to those families that are in dire need of their help. The pursuit of such an action might just help in reducing the cases of stunted growth in children. These products help reverse the health conditions of children that are in dire need of nutrition, and help them recuperate from their stunted state.

Cash transfers can thus sometimes be useful in this regard. Families with infants and young children are most likely to be vulnerable, and funds to help them procure the food they need can be allocated accordingly.

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Spreading awareness

Spreading awareness in villages and other rural areas is an important task that needs to be fulfilled. The WHO and UNICEF both need to work tirelessly to increase their outreach. Regular health check-ups of the babies in the affected areas need to be monitored on a regular basis.

Most people do not understand the gravity of the situation. Many families do not have the means nor the education that is necessary for providing the children with the food that they need. The local governments in the most affected areas can hold awareness campaigns and workshops in those rural areas, where the people can be told about the dangers of undernutrition and be encouraged to come forward and seek help in case they cannot provide for the children themselves.

Food price control

Controlling the prices of food products is an important issue that must be raised here. There has been a massive spike in the rates of food products in many regions across the world, which has made the situation worse for the nations that have a low per capita income on an average. The rising prices of food have sent such countries into a state of shock, and has further widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Although this increase in food prices have automatically led to the stabilization of population growth in many areas, many regions still do not have appropriate access to family planning methods or healthcare facilities, which has further deteriorated the situation for the young children.

Encouraging local farmers through subsidies and grants can enable the people to have access to food that is cheaper and more easily available. This will also provide a means of livelihood for the farmers, while allowing the poor of the local areas to get food at affordable prices.

Women empowerment

In case of developing nations, the emphasis should be on the policies pertaining to the education and empowerment of women, and the spread of awareness regarding malnutrition and overall health.

Women in the developing countries play a pivotal role in terms of procuring food and feeding the children, especially in the rural areas. Education plays an important role in helping these women decide the kind of food they want to put on the table for their children, and this is exactly why helping women and girls have access to primary education is absolutely necessary.

Food security

Food security is another major issue that has to be addressed in these low-income countries, and they must be prepared to face a situation where food imports are costlier than what they may have experienced in the past. Farming techniques should be revamped to increase the availability of local produce, which might just help to reduce prices, ultimately enabling the poorer sections of the society to have access to the food at rates that are affordable to them.

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Donations

Agencies in charge of managing crisis related to food and health need to provide additional support to reduce the instances of stunting and wasting due to malnutrition in children under 5 years of age. These units need to provide extended social protection on a short-term basis, and need to put in efforts to increase awareness and availability of food for the children.

The rise in the global food prices have increased the threat to these poor communities, as it has become increasingly harder for them to have access to nutritious food, thereby resulting in families that have children suffering from undernutrition. Many infectious diseases have also started to take their toll on these lives, as the general weakness, together with the absence of an efficiently functioning immune system continues to wreak havoc on the very social fabric of healthcare.

The lack of awareness, and the high prices of food products have raised questions related to the food systems on a global scale. Markets are no longer producing outcomes that are efficient, as the current times have become rather unstable. The developed countries need to do their bit in helping the nations that are struggling to feed the poor. This is because it is only the children who can lead the countries through the path of development and on to economic prosperity.

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