Breaking the cycle of chronic child malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa

February 09, 2023


Breaking the cycle of chronic child malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa

February 09, 2023

Clare Roche

Manager - Health Policy & Insights

Clare is a manager in the Health Policy and Insights practice at Economist Impact. Clare has over ten years of experience working in the healthcare industry in the Middle East. At Economist Impact, Clare is involved in project management, consultancy and custom research with a focus on the MENA region. Before joining Economist Impact, Clare worked with PwC’s Middle East Healthcare practice as a strategy and operations consultant and Enterprise Ireland, the trade and technology arm of the Irish Government, as an advisor to healthcare and life science companies. Clare holds a Bachelor in International Commerce from NUI Galway and is currently completing an MSc in Health Economics, Policy and Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).


Chronic malnutrition perpetuates poverty and curtails social and economic development in affected regions.

Malnourished children are subject to physical and cognitive delays, often impeding them from reaching their complete developmental potential with significant and lifelong health, social and economic implications. Malnourished children are also more susceptible to infectious and chronic diseases and achieve lower levels of education and reduced adult income.

The prevalence of malnutrition is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, with sparse progress and even regression over the past decade. Although stunting in children under five years of age is declining globally, in Africa the number of stunted children has increased, rising from 54.4m in 2000 to 61.4m in 2020, and is estimated to reach 61m by 2025.

The covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, combined with ongoing conflict and climate change, have hindered recent progress and exacerbated ongoing malnutrition challenges.

Accelerating action against all forms of undernutrition is an economic necessity as much as a moral imperative. In an environment of constrained resources, investment should be directed towards a subset of interventions that target the drivers of child malnutrition at a country, regional and community level; are appropriate to the local context; and maximise existing resources and capabilities. No single intervention will eliminate chronic child malnutrition; however, a number of integrated policy actions and interventions can help to move the needle forward:

  1. Focus on the first 1,000 days while not leaving behind the children who are already stunted
  2. Improve maternal health and education, and empower women and mothers  
  3. Favour policies that alleviate the burden of high food prices while supporting sustainable economic growth and development
  4. Enhance the role of community health workers while supporting cross-sector integration and resource sharing at local and community levels 
  5. Improve access to timely and relevant data to support smart allocation of national budgets  
  6. Advancing progress on child malnutrition requires coordinated, nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific interventions from the health and non-health sectors

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