World food crisis and malaria

The Washington Post reports today that “More than 100 million people are being driven deeper into poverty by a “silent tsunami” of sharply rising food prices, which have sparked riots around the world and threaten UN-backed feeding programs for 20 million children,” according to the director of the World Food Program (WFP). The article reports that the WFP is running out of funds and may cut back on school feeding programs.

The WFP Director explained that because of rapidly rising food prices, “Those living on less than $1 a day were giving up meat and vegetables, and those living on less than 50 cents were facing increasingly desperate hunger.” WFP food rations are depicted in the WFP ‘red cup’ photo seen below.

wfp154505sm.jpgWhat are the implications for malaria?

In Mozambique, Bassat et al. (2008) found that. “For children aged eight months to four years, the risk factors [for dying from with malaria] were malnutrition, hypoglycaemia, chest indrawing, inability to sit and a history of vomiting.” In Tanzania Sunguya et al. (Tanzania Health Research Bulletin, 2006) found that, “coinfections [such as malaria] complicate the management of severe malnutrition and are associated with higher death rate.”

A review by Schaible and Kaufmann (2007) linked malnutrition with impaired immunity. They state that, “Malnourished children suffer in greater proportion from respiratory infections, infectious diarrhea, measles, and malaria, characterized by a protracted course and exacerbated disease. These malnourished children present with diminished functional T cell counts, increased undifferentiated lymphocyte numbers, and depressed serum complement activity.”

Whether the current food crises results from the international economic meltdown, global warming or diversion of food crops to make biofuels, the potential impact on mortality from malaria is serious. There has never been a greater need to link nutrition, agriculture policy and food aid with malaria programming. Vertical funding will not solve the problem.

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