An entire generation of potential leaders is at risk without commitment and action to end child stunting and malnutrition, child advocacy groups have warned.
The warning came as African finance ministers met in Abuja in what is being considered the first tangible effort to make child malnutrition an economic issue.
“We know it is wrong for a child to grow up stunted, it doesn’t feel right morally and socially,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive officer of the charity Save the Children.
“But I think we are beginning to understand that there is also an economic complication.”
Malnutrition typically could wipe out 16% of gross domestic product—and a loss of up to 3% of GDP could have a “terrible impact” on the country, according to the charity.
“For those children who haven’t had the right nutrient at an early age, we know from our work round the world that they are 20% less literate than children who have a decent meal,” said Whitbread.
“And we also know it will go on to impact their earning power.”
Lower earning power in turn affect their ability to compete, stay productive or take care of their own children’s nutrition, according to studies in the field.
Said Whitbread, “By pointing to the actual economic return on investment, that might be a way to convince finance ministers to make the investment in an area where they know they will get a return.”
The meeting of African finance ministers is a step to commit to universal health coverage, support domestic budget allocations for health and commit definitive budget lines to child nutrition and health.
“We will use every strategy that we can in order to try and get the political will that is necessary to make the changes, policy changes and translate them into budget and interventions,” said Whitbread.
Child malnutrition is estimated to directly cost up to $30 billion annually.
Experts say an investment of only $9 billion a year could save the lives of one million children.