No African country is expected to reach the UN target of ending childhood malnutrition by 2030, according to a new study.
The research, comprised of two papers published in the science journal Nature, is the first of its kind to identify local hotspots for poor child nutrition and low education levels across 51 African countries. By using maps of local health and education data, in 5×5 sq km across the whole continent, researchers identified variations at state and county level missed from previous comparisons.
The study found that many countries, including Ghana and southern Nigeria, had shown improvement in childhood stunting and wasting since 2000, but indicated that malnutrition indicators remained “persistently high” in 14 countries, stretching the length of the African Sahel from Senegal in the west to Eritrea in the east.
“Most of the previous assessments were made at best at a state level and many at a country level,” said Hay. “That masks a lot of variations in a country.”
Hay said for investments in global health to make progress towards the UN’s sustainable development goals, efforts must be made to address the social inequalities that drive health disparities.
The research, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that most improvements in child growth failure were sparked by large political, social and financial investments.
It was “no coincidence” that nations like Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia and much of the Sahel – areas that had experienced conflict and received less international assistance for child and newborn health – showed no progress, said the study.
The study highlighted a widespread need to adopt “evidence based precision public health programmes to track and improve progress” in order to give clinicians, teachers, donors and others an insight into where best to direct resources.
“Data gaps undermine our ability to target resources, develop policies and track accountability,” Annan said.
“Without good data, we’re flying blind. If you can’t see it, you can’t solve it.”
He singled out Senegal, where making malnutrition a political priority has reaped dividends, as an example of what African countries can achieve with impetus from the state.
Stunting rates in the West African country dropped by one-third between 2011 and 2015 after the prime minister’s office set up a co-ordinating body tasked with reducing malnutrition.