Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Nutrition, worms, measles and malaria

I have been re-reading Michael Latham's chapter in Global Obligations for the Right to Food about tackling the curse of worms, measles and malaria. Professor Latham recommends governments to take a Resolution to the World Health Assembly calling for a strategic program for tackling these three illnesses.

Professor Latham, like the rest of us who contributed chapters to Global Obligations for the Right to Food, makes the case that governments have obligations under existing human rights conventions to take collective action to deliver and protect the right to food. Promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding is part of the measures he highlights for improving child short and long-term health.

He also argues that relieving hunger, encompasses relieving malnutrition and that is not only achieved by providing more food, but ending endemic parasites and illnesses that compromise nutrition.

I don't want to reiterate everything that is in his chapter - you really should buy the book - but the three principal concerns (worms, measles and malaria) are embarrassingly cheap to address. Embarrassing, because governments with the resources are failing to do so. They are not only failing in their human rights and moral obligations, they are, in some respects costing themselves unnecessary expenditure.

Worms, parasites in the intestines that may affect organs such as the lungs, infect probably 2 billion people. Cambodia's de-worming programme cost US$ 0.06 per child.

There are about 50 million cases of measles every year, with about 1 million deaths. Immunization can have significant impact. "Six southern African countries that recorded 60,000 measles cases in 1996 reduced this to 117 cases in 2000". While national governments should be taking this action, where they cannot, the support of the international community is vital, argues Professor Latham, and will save them money if a concerted global campaign wipes out measles.

He writes: "It cost the United States US$ 124 million a year to keep itself free of smallpox for the twenty-five years prior to when smallpox was eradicated in 1978. Thus the US$32 million that the United States invested in the global Smallpox Eradication Program was recouped in about three months once smallpox vaccinations could be discontinued."

It is estimated that there are 1200 million cases of malaria every year, resulting in 1.5 million deaths annually. Impregnated bed nets are seen as an effective way to greatly reduce this toll. A net costs typically just US$ 3, but many people in poor countries cannot afford them. Malaria is so widespread that its impact is far greater than counted in deaths. Lost schools days, days of work and unmet potential can also be counted.

Governments have signed up to the human rights instruments, that include the right to health as well as the right to food, and the Millennium Development Goals, but are failing to meet the obligations that arise from these.

Find out more by buying Global Obligations for the Right to Food from Baby Milk Action's on-line Virtual Shop.

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