Seven million children under 5 years of age died worldwide in 2011, and one-third had malnutrition. Latin America and Caribbean countries stand out for the notable improvement of their health and nutrition situation, particularly in pregnant women and young children. Nutrition-sensitive interventions such as promoting food security, women's empowerment, social safety nets, clean water, and sanitation, among others, are critical for success. In Bolivia, the program Desnutrición Cero (Malnutrition Zero) was able to reduce mortality from severe malnutrition after 5 years from 25% to less than 5%, based on widespread implementation of the World Health Organization 10-steps protocol for hospitalized care and the application of community management. The Economic Commission for Latin America estimated the cost of malnutrition for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic as US$6,658 million. Approximately 1 million children have dropped out of school because of malnutrition, and as a result, malnourished children have 2 years less schooling, which brings social and economic losses not only to those affected but to society at large. National and international nutrition and food programs developed over the past 50 years have been implemented as integral components of broader strategies of primary healthcare and education, oriented toward preventing deaths and improving the quality of life of low-socioeconomic-status groups. Treating hundreds or thousands of affected children will not solve the global public health problem of malnutrition. Access to adequate amounts of quality foods represents a basic human right and is a necessary precondition for health. In turn, good nutrition and health are prerequisites for human, social, and economic development.
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© 2014, The Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation.