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To Fight Malnutrition, A Little Diplomacy Goes A Long Way

Stunting — failing to meet an average height by a certain age — was rampant in Peru. This is how they cut rates in half.

Photo by The Visionary Agency/Flickr.


Child malnutrition in Peru has hit an all-time low thanks to a combination of local and international efforts.

Identifying stunting — otherwise known as failing to meet an average height by a certain age — is just one way that researchers and health advocates are able to measure a child’s overall well-being. Treating a stunted child can be complicated because diet, disease, cultural upheaval, pollution, and emotional stress all play a role in normal and abnormal development. In the case of Peru, a country typically plagued by stunting, nonprofit and government officials worked together to better understand and ultimately solve the problem.

To give a little background on the issue, 39% of Peruvian children under age 5 suffered from stunting in 1990. Despite economic gains in the country, malnutrition remained a widespread, chronic issue. In an attempt to change that, the nonprofit CARE Peru received funding from USAID to invest in the health of 1,200 communities. Using the positive results of these investments, CARE Peru convinced President Alan Garcia to pick up where they left off. And it worked. By 2016, the percentage of stunted children 5 and younger had dropped to 18% according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Of course, at the root of the problem of stunting is a lack of both resources and awareness. Peru’s former Deputy Minister of Development and Social Assessment, Ariela Luna, sought to confront this problem head-on with a two-pronged approach: vaccinations and maternal counseling. With the support of the Ministry of Economics and Finance, Luna was able to reallocate funds toward malnutrition with low-cost, results-oriented initiatives.

After targeting districts with high rates of stunting and implementing protocols to track progress, Luna and her team started to see gradual improvement. After six months of work, just about 100% of the participating communities were performing at new standards. Since then, millions of Peruvian children have escaped the cycle of chronic malnutrition.

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