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Most Dangerous Day of Your Life

A portrait of women and children displayed at the Art4Health Exhibition at the Vienna International Centre. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Pop-art paintings filled the 1970s-era rotunda at the Vienna International Centre for two weeks in September. These bright, vibrant portraits of women and children in the Art4Health exhibit are shifting perspectives on a disturbing public health issue, high death rates among mothers and young child in the developing world.

Every 30 Seconds

A child dies of severe acute malnutrition every thirty seconds. Up to one million malnourished children die every year, largely unnoticed. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 20 million children under the age of 5 suffer from severe acute malnutrition. They face a considerably higher risk of dying than their well-nourished peers.

Art as Advocacy

The Art4Health is a travelling exhibit, owned by the WHO´s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, is currently hosted by the IAEA in Vienna. Art4Health was launched in 2006 as an innovative advocacy project, using art to increase awareness and promote action to improve reproductive health, especially for women and children.

Global Strategy

Improved health for women and children is now a global priority, highlighted by the launch of the WHO´s Global Strategy for Women´s and Children´s Health during the UN´s Millennium Development Goals Summit on 22 September. It is a coordinated, international campaign to save the lives of millions of women and children. Governments, private business, international organizations, NGOs, health professionals and academics are called upon to achieve the Millennium Goals´ targets to reduce young children´s and women´s mortality rates by two-thirds within the next 5 years. Improved nutrition is widely recognized as an essential prerequisite in the achievement of at least 4 of the 8 Millennium Development Goals.

Newborns at Risk

Lena Davidsson, IAEA Nutrition expert in the Division of Human Health, brought the exhibit to the IAEA´s headquarters. "Your first day of life is the most dangerous day of your life. All newborn children are at far greater risk of dying on that day, than on any other day thereafter," she explains. In resource-poor regions, the odds are stacked against newborn children. They are often under-weight and weaker then babies born in developed countries. They struggle to start breastfeeding, fight off infections and to maintain their body temperature. It is a sad fact that many newborn infants literally die of exposure. This is "clearly unacceptable," says Davidsson.

Taking Action

"If mothers, and as a result their babies, are well-nourished and have access to basic health care," Davidsson explains, "their survival rates rise dramatically." The Art4Health exhibit challenges the stereotype of women in the developing world as victims, rather presenting them as "confident, strong personalities that have seized responsibility for their health and their children´s well-being, working in partnership with health workers to improve the situation," Davidsson notes.

Healthy at Home

Until recently, effective treatment for the worst forms of malnutrition, severe acute malnutrition, could only be found in hospitals and clinics. Often, care facilities are too far away from the sick children, or they lack the trained personnel and resources to be able to offer the needed care. Recent data suggests that many malnourished children can be treated in their home communities with ready-to-use therapeutic foods or other nutrient-dense foods. The IAEA is pursuing research with its partners at the WHO, UNICEF, and the International Malnutrition Task Force to help improve the dietary management for treating these severely malnourished children.

Nuclear Solutions

At the IAEA, a nuclear technique utilizing stable, or non-radioactive, isotopes is used as a powerful tool to evaluate growth in a more detailed way, i.e. to monitor fat and muscle mass in children recovering from severe acute malnutrition. This technique is currently being used in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Jamaica, Pakistan and Sudan to monitor nutrition interventions as part of an IAEA Coordinated Research Project. This precise, yet affordable, technology offers the possibility to better understand the "quality of growth." Currently, there is virtually no information available on this vitally important aspect of growth, which is essential in predicting therapeutic outcomes.


Millennium Development Goals

The eight Millennium Development Goals form an agenda agreed by all the world´s countries and leading development institutions. The goals are to be met by 2015. They include:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  • Achieve universal primary education;
  • Promote gender equality and empower women;
  • Reduce child mortality;
  • Improve maternal health;
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
  • Ensure environmental sustainability;
  • Develop a global partnership for development; and
  • International Malnutrition Task Force

International Malnutrition Task Force

The International Malnutrition Task Force was instituted by the International Union of Nutritional Sciences in 2005. The Task Force has two goals: to raise global understanding of malnutrition´s role in causing as many deaths as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and thus focus health policies and allocate resources to reverse this trend, as well as to train health workers and develop the means to prevent and treat malnutrition.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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