Friday, January 30, 2009

Top Ten Humanitarian Crises in 2008

I just received my latest e-bulletin from Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whom I have supported since I saw their work in Rwanda in 1994. It lists the top ten humanitarian crises in the world during 2008. The saddest thing to learn is that millions of malnourished children are left untreated despite advances in life-saving nutritional therapy.

Well-meaning philanthropists, such as one who loaded a ship with chocolate bars for Rwandan orphans in 1994 and the chocolate melted on board, fail to understand the true needs of starving children who cannot tolerate sudden bounties of rich western food. They only make the children sicker, and they die faster.

According to Doctors Without Borders: "At any given moment, 20 million children are suffering from the most deadly form of severe acute malnutrition and up to five million children under five years of age die each year of complications related to malnutrition.

"Of the tens of millions of children who do receive assistance, international food aid and nutrition programs have had limited impact in preventing their downward spiral into life-threatening malnutrition."

Why? "This failure is due to assistance programs built on foods that are nutritionally inappropriate to rehabilitate malnourished children. The main foods—fortified blended flours made from either corn or wheat plus soya —DO NOT meet the minimum nutritional needs of the most vulnerable children between six and 24 months."

What is needed? Doctors Without Borders advocate governments and international agencies adjust the products in food aid to better meet the needs of the people it aims to help by providing child-appropriate foods of high nutritional value such as supplemental ready-to-use foods (RUF).

Unfortunately, just slightly more than seven per cent of these severely malnourished children actually receive the UN-recommended treatment with nutrient-dense therapeutic foods.

In recent years, advances in nutritional therapies for the severest forms of malnutrition have allowed Doctors Without Borders and other aid agencies to successfully demonstrate that severely malnourished children can recover rapidly by taking a short course of therapeutic RUF that mothers can provide at home. Doctors Without Borders, alone, has treated more than 300,000 malnourished children over the past 2 years in 22 countries.

These energy-dense dairy-containing pastes and biscuits are high-quality foods that deliver the nutrition children need for catch-up growth and to ward off infection. Community-based and outpatient feeding programs have the potential to treat millions of malnourished children using RUFs.

We can make this happen. Think about it. Every day we are beseiged by charities all claiming to do wonderous works around the world--many of them do what they claim, but I saw how Doctors Without Borders administer the most vanquished at great risk. They often remain in areas other non-government agencies desert. To support them is to see your dollar make a real difference in the lives they save.

Go directly to the web site for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) here.

Sri Lanka
Democratic Republic of Congo

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