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IAEA Organizes Second Coordination Meeting to Combat Malnutrition in Africa

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African and international nutritional experts met at the IAEA from 28 May to 1 June to review the progress of a project on body composition of children. (Photo: H. Pattison/IAEA)

A second coordination meeting for a regional IAEA technical cooperation project[1] that focuses on the use of nuclear techniques to assess the body composition of children previously affected by malnutrition took place in Vienna from 28 May to 1 June. The project, which began in 2016, aims to improve national programmes in eight countries in Africa to treat children with moderate and severe acute malnutrition through the assessment of body composition and a range of health outcomes such as body weight, height, handgrip strength, lipid profile, blood pressure, markers of inflammatory processes and physical activity levels in the context of the nutrition transition. Nutrition transition is characterised by altered dietary patterns and lifestyle changes linked to population growth, urbanization and globalization.

Opening the meeting, Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the Division for Africa, stressed the unfavourable malnutrition conditions in some African countries according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank data, and urged the meeting participants to bear these figures in mind as motivation to maximize their efforts in contributing data that can be used to inform the design of interventions to address this problem during the final two years of the project. Mr Abdulrazak underscored the important role that the project could play in attracting concrete attention from international donors, and in rallying support from policy-makers to bring about real change – not only in individual countries, but on the continent as a whole.

Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the Division for Africa, opens the meeting. (Photo: IAEA)

Good nutrition is linked to good health and the attainment of maximum human capital: investing one dollar in addressing malnutrition results in a return of 16 dollars. The role of stable isotope techniques in nutrition assessments has become even more relevant in light of the Sustainable Development Goals 2, ‘Zero Hunger’ and 3, ‘Good Health and Well-Being’, as their use contributes to a better understanding of the medium and long-term effects of malnutrition in early life, and is of great value in providing much needed evidence to support the design of effective interventions to combat malnutrition in its many forms. According to the recently released UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates – 2018 edition, 39% of all African children under 5 years of age do not have the adequate height for their age and represent more than one third of the total global stunting burden.  27% of all African children are too thin for their height, representing one quarter of the total global wasting burden. In addition, 25% of all African children are overweight, contributing to one quarter of the global childhood obesity burden. Africa is the only continent that has seen an increase in the number of children who are too short for their age, from 50.6 million in 2000 to 58.7 million in 2017.

The coordination meeting brought together IAEA staff, international experts, and nutrition experts and project counterparts from medical research institutes and University Medical Colleges from the eight participating African Member States: Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. In addition, a representative from Cote d’Ivoire participated in the meeting with the aim of joining the project, and presenting the status of malnutrition in Cote d’Ivoire. Together, the group reviewed project progress and challenges encountered to date, and agreed on measures and actions to be taken by Project Coordinators in their respective countries to obtain ethics approval and local funding for the field work. The group also adopted a comprehensive workplan for completing the remaining activities and agreed on actions to mitigate the challenges previously encountered.

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[1] RAF6052, ‘Nuclear techniques to assess body composition in children previously treated for moderate (MAM) and severe acute malnutrition (SAM), and its medium-term benefits and risks in eight countries in Africa’.

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