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Female Leaders Should Accelerate the Fight Against Malnutrition

Jorge Jimnez de la Jara MD MPH Professor of Public Health Universidad Católica de Chile Former Chairman Executive Board WHO (2001)

Governments and social leaders at all levels need to commit more attention and energy to the elimination of child malnutrition, one of the main barriers to faster progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Pregnant mothers should be properly fed in order to protect their own lives and determine the best conditions for their unborn children. They should breastfeed for at least six months and afterward provide their babies with nutritious, balanced and cheap complementary (weaning) food. Unfortunately this is not the case for more than a quarter of boys and girls under the age of five in the developing world. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of half of all infant deaths and one of the emerging factors of the growing obesity and cardiovascular disease epidemics in most of the world.

Female leaders should use these opportunities to push the battle against child malnutrition higher up the agenda. In recent years, growing numbers of women have assumed influential leadership roles in Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world. These women, passionate about their people and their countries, represent the aspirations of women everywhere, but most importantly are also mothers and grandmothers. They can make a difference in this fight to improve nutrition and human development.

To ensure children have a balanced diet with adequate energy, protein and micronutrients levels, diversified foods from local cultures need to be further developed. Systems should be established to guarantee local foods are properly processed in order to comply with safety standards and to ensure availability and access to these sources at all times and for all income levels. To set up these systems, governments have to collaborate with different stakeholders like nutrition specialists, NGOs and industry but also with local women, whose role in the food process either on the field, in the shop or in the kitchen is so prominent.

plays a vital role and is essential within community development strategies to face the challenge of hunger and malnutrition. Women, who are still the primary carer for children, need to receive basic information on correct selection and use of foods and how to make the most of scarce resources. All means must be used to promote public , including policy development, social marketing and mass communication.

Poor and emerging countries must learn from each other how to realize efficient solutions. Latin American countries, including Chile, have already proven the feasibility of this critical human development task. Pediatricians and public policy experts in these countries have successfully implemented free access to primary , basic nutrition education for women, promotion of breast feeding and complementary food provision in effective delivery networks.

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