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Global Health Thought Leader Uncategorized

Improving agriculture vital to reaching health goals


Michael Nyenhuis, CEO and President of MAP International

I lead a global health organization, but you would be as likely to find an agronomist working in one of our community projects today as you would a medical professional. Good nutrition, after all, is a foundational element of good health.

To that end, the MAP International team recently secured a $470,000 grant from the World Food Program to help communities in northern Uganda boost food production. We see this as central to our mission to improve the health of people living in impoverished communities. Among Atlanta’s global health agencies, we are not alone in the view that improving agriculture is vital to support health goals. In fact, Global Health Action recently announced a new partnership with the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti to strengthen livestock management.

The World Health Organization backs up these strategies. Child malnutrition, WHO says, is an important indicator of the nutritional status and health of a population. A key indicator is measuring how children grow. A WHO study in 2012 found that 17 percent of children under age five in developing countries were estimated to be underweight. In 1990, that number was 28 percent, so progress has been made.

The work is not done, however. Reducing the number of underweight children in the world is one of the indications of meeting the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG). Specifically, the target is to see the 1990 figure halved by 2015. This is why nutrition, particularly among children, remains such a high priority for global health programming.

But it is not only children who are affected by malnutrition, of course. In developing regions, an estimated 14 percent of all people are undernourished, meaning they do not take in a sufficient number of daily calories for healthy living, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. When looking at sub-Saharan Africa alone, this percentage increases to about 25 percent.

Innovative programs, like Global Health Action’s, will help bring down these numbers. Its collaboration with the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti will launch a livestock training and management program for women’s groups already involved in broader healthcare and education programs in their villages. Specifically, they will be testing the effectiveness of establishing a cooperative/association model to spur mutual support and learning in livestock management.

We wish them the best. More and better food through improved farming and livestock management will lead to better health for the people in these kinds of communities.

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