Families around the world are less and less able to access and afford an adequate nutritious diet due to loss of income, rising prices and the disruption of food and health care systems due to the pandemic.
Indeed, in many low- and middle-income countries, a large increase in maternal and child malnutrition. In addition to the 3,000 million estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), another 141 million people could not afford a healthy diet due to covid-19.
This is what new research, published this week in the journal Nature Food and led by researchers from the consortium Standing Together for Nutrition (ST4N), which predicts that this difficult situation could worsen if urgent action is not taken. Experts expect that the proportion of the population that cannot afford even half the cost of a healthy diet in the 63 countries modeled has risen from 43% to 50%.
An unprecedented nutritional crisis looms. If immediate action is not taken, by 2022 there will be 283,000 additional deaths related to malnutrition in boys and girls, equivalent to 225 more children dying every day.
Saskia Osendarp, first author
“Our report models the possible impacts of covid-19 in order to guide those responsible to take evidence-based measures on how to mitigate the damage that this disease is likely to have,” he explains to SINC Saskia osendarp, first author of the article.
“The findings clearly show that an unprecedented nutritional crisis is looming, even more so with the acceleration of the pandemic in many low- and middle-income countries. If no immediate action is taken, by 2022 there will be 283,000 additional deaths related to malnutrition in boys and girls, which is equivalent to 225 more children who die a day ”, he adds.
Moreover, among those who survive, others 13.6 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition and 3.6 million more could be stunted in 2022. “This will have a lasting impact on their lives, their families and their countries. And, as in any crisis, women and children are disproportionately affected. The future of a whole generation is in danger ”, warns Osendarp.
Three possible scenarios, but all negative
The researchers used modeling tools to project the impact that the pandemic could have on maternal and child nutrition in the least enriched countries between 2020 and 2022 in three possible contexts: optimistic, moderate and pessimistic.
Considering a moderate scenario for 2022, the alterations caused by covid-19 could be the cause of 9.3 million additional children (optimistic = 6.4 million; pessimistic = 13.6 million) are underweight for their height, and 2.6 million children (optimistic = 1.5 million; pessimistic 3.6 million) are short for their age.
Considering a moderate scenario for 2022, the pandemic could be the cause of 9.3 million more children being underweight for their height, and 2.6 million children being shorter for their age
This scenario also predicts 168,000 additional child deaths (optimistic = 47,000; pessimistic = 283,000), 2.1 million cases of maternal anemia (optimistic = 1 million; pessimistic = 4.8 million) and 2.1 million children born to mothers with a low body mass index (optimistic = 1.4 million; pessimistic = 3 million).
Likewise, productivity losses Future results from increased stunting, wasting and infant mortality could cost $ 29.7 billion (pessimistic = $ 44.3 billion). And to mitigate these effects, they estimate that an additional $ 1.2 billion a year (pessimistic = $ 1.7 billion) will be needed in nutrition budget allocations.
Of course, for the authors it is possible that the repercussions on nutrition are more in line with the pessimistic scenario, given the rapid spread of new variants aggressive from SARS-CoV-2: “Governments and donors should prioritize nutritional interventions as part of the global response to covid-19.”
Nutrition, key in the global response to the pandemic
It is not the first time that these specialists warn of the danger. Last year they published a study in The Lancet that already put these dramatic figures on the map, although now the forecast is much worse.
“The immediate impact of the pandemic on the lives of the smallest has set the nutrition clock back at least ten years,” he values Lawrence Haddad, co-organizer of ST4N. “But it also threatens them with less chance of surviving the next illness, of doing well in school and with more risk of living in poverty when they are adults ”.
According to the authors, spending projections suggest that official development assistance for nutrition-related sectors will not return to 2019 levels until 2030 at the earliest. And even then, it won’t be enough.
The immediate impact of the pandemic on the lives of the very young has set the nutrition clock back at least ten years. But it also threatens them with less chance of surviving the next illness, of doing well in school, and of more risk of living in poverty as adults.
Lawrence Haddad, co-organizer of ST4N
“The economic recession widespread has made the poorest even poorer and the number of people struggling to access nutritious food is increasing every day. This is absolutely avoidable, we have tools and solutions. We need bold investments and actions. It is time for nutritional action to be part of all responses to covid-19, ”continued Haddad.
“Ensuring good nutrition for all – especially children, adolescents, and pregnant and lactating mothers – is crucial to saving lives and ensuring the health and future development of families and nations. Getting the nutrition right today will determine whether the consequences of the pandemic will be suffered for months, years or decades, “he concludes. Saskia from Pee, of the UN World Food Program.
Covid-19 strikes more patients with malnutrition
In the same way that the pandemic will worsen the situation of the most disadvantaged population, people with COVID-19 with a history of malnutrition may have a higher probability of dying and needing mechanical ventilation, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.
Using the medical records of 8,604 children and 94,495 adults who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States between March and June 2020, the authors observed how those patients with a previous diagnosis of malnutrition were more likely to have severe disease.
According to the authors, public health interventions targeting those most at risk of malnutrition can mitigate the increased likelihood of severe COVID-19 in this group.
The COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate maternal and child undernutrition and child mortality in low- and middle-income countries. Nature Food DOI 10.1038 / s43016-021-00319-4
Rights: Creative Commons.