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Creating healthy futures

09 November 2018, Impact of Our Work

Every day, malnutrition kills thousands of children around the world

This entirely preventable condition causes unimaginable heartbreak for a parent or loved one, who in many cases is unable to do anything to prevent their child’s death.

It’s hard for most of us in Australia to imagine being in such a situation. Most Australians have access to enough resources to feed our children a nutritious diet and provide good quality healthcare that we can rely on if our children get sick. But for many families, there is simply not enough food to feed everyone.  

Our staff save lives, treating children who are seriously malnourished, or those who are at risk of becoming so. While this life-saving work is at the core of what we do, we don’t walk away once a child is out of danger. What is the point of saving a child’s life once, and then needing to return to do it all over again? We stick around, checking on children’s progress to make sure they don’t become trapped in a cycle of getting ill, recovering, and then getting ill again. We focus on the future, on doing everything in our power to keep each child healthy and safe. But our work goes beyond treating the immediate need too.  

Image: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

We don’t wait for children to become malnourished, rather we address what causes them to become malnourished in the first place. We work with mothers, in many cases adolescent girls, before they become pregnant, so that they are healthy and able to give their babies good quality nutrition from the very beginning. We also take extra care to target the most vulnerable and most deprived first, so that no child is overlooked or missed.  

We do this by working with children, their families, their communities and their governments. We support and empower communities to prevent their children becoming malnourished, to feed them, to keep them healthy, to care for them and to see them reach their full potential both in childhood and into adulthood. 

There’s still plenty of work to be done but with your support we’ve made great progress making sure that the most vulnerable children get the food and help they need to thrive. However, if you spend enough time on the Internet, you may be quickly confused by a range of debates about the politics of malnutrition and hunger. Let’s bust some of the common myths about hunger, once and for all. 

Myth: Over-population causes food shortages

The world produces enough food for everyone, but it’s not evenly distributed. In some regions, climate change is making it harder than ever for families to survive – so we’re helping them to prepare for natural disasters and develop more sustainable food sources.

Myth: Children in Africa are always starving

In many countries of Africa, people have enough food, most of the time. But sometimes, climate change, droughts or conflicts cause widespread food shortages – and that’s when children need us most. 

Myth: When charities give food, they create dependencies

Sometimes, food aid or cash vouchers are crucial – particularly in the aftermath of a natural disaster or during conflict, when families need a helping hand to get back on their feet. When aid is given effectively, it pulls people out of dependency – helping them to become self-sufficient, resilient and properly prepared for the future.

Myth: It’s the responsibility of governments to take care of their own people

Sometimes a local government simply can’t cope with the scale of human need such as a major food shortage or famine. In such extreme cases, a government may ask Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) like Save the Children to help out by leveraging technical expertise along with the support of generous people from a relatively wealthy country like Australia.

Combatting malnutrition

To combat malnutrition, we work to address the immediate causes of illness, but we also tackle the reasons why children become malnourished in the first place. Throughout our programmes we work in partnership with communities, government and partners to test what works, and then advocate for and support the scale up of this work. We also support communities to plan, carry out, evaluate and sustain activities to improve children’s nutrition and development.

We use proven social and behaviour change techniques to identify and address the causes of malnutrition in each context and change harmful social norms, gender relations, community structures and individual behaviours. We work across sectors (health, education, social protection, agriculture, gender) to ensure our actions are integrated, comprehensive and sustainable to respond to often complex and underlying causes of malnutrition. 

Image: Jordi Matas/Save the Children

We treat mothers and children who are already malnourished by providing immediate treatment, working to improve their diets, encourage breastfeeding and improve water and sanitation facilities.

We also work to prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place. We focus our efforts on the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life, to ensure that they have the best possible chance to develop healthily for a fulfilling and productive life ahead. 

Lifesaving recipes

Lifesaving recipes

In Mozambique, where Tereza and her children live, families grow plentiful supplies of maize. They use maize to make a porridge that keeps children feeling full. But as Tereza discovered, children still become malnourished. That’s because the porridge doesn’t provide a child with the vitamins and minerals they need for the rapid physical and mental development that occurs during their first 1000 days of life. Save the Children runs an innovative project in Mozambique, where volunteers are trained to check on the health of mothers and new babies.

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Jacob's Story

Jacob* is a four year old boy who was first identified as suffering from acute malnutrition in late January 2017 by a Save the Children outreach team in northern Kenya. Jacob's family had lost nearly all their livestock due to the drought and his parents had no food to feed him or his siblings. As Jacob’s health continued to deteriorate, his parents feared he was going to die but had no means to improve his situation. They brought Jacob and his siblings to the Save the Children’s outreach site, where he was registered for treatment and given a supply of nutrient-rich peanut paste. In the months after treatment, Jacob's condition improved greatly.
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Saving and changing lives

Saving and changing lives

When Janice was born in July 2015, she was thin, had little strength and spent the first few weeks of her life in hospital. When she was nine months old, her mum Jenelyn, took her for a check-up at her local health centre and found out she did not weigh enough for her age – she was malnourished. Janice became part of Save the Children’s malnutrition program and was given nutritious peanut paste to help her get back up to a healthy weight. Her mum attended cooking lessons and received a recipe book of nutritious meals for the family.

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For many children around the world, the difference between life and death comes down to access to basic healthcare. Yet healthcare is a fundamental right of children everywhere. We want children to survive preventable diseases and malnutrition. But we can’t do it without your support. 

Want to know more? Read our FAQs here.

*Names changed to protect identity

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