TEHRAN – Zahra Abdollahi, director of the community nutrition improvement office of the Ministry of Health, described the country’s measures taken against food insecurity caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the report of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effects along with domestic conditions such as inflation and economic shocks increase the risk of food insecurity and hunger in the world.
Malnutrition plays an important role in COVID-19 development, people with weakened immune systems or non-communicable diseases are more vulnerable to the disease.
COVID-19 has negatively affected all aspects of food security, including food availability, accessibility, productivity, and stability.
Decreased purchasing power due to job loss, rising food prices, inflation, domestic and international conditions lead to the consumption of food without nutritional value and reduced physical activity which will cause malnutrition along with obesity and overweight.
Iran is trying to implement the support programs while maintaining the achievements in significantly reducing malnutrition in children under five years, which is the result of recent efforts in the country, protect the nutritionally vulnerable groups including pregnant women, children under five years, and the elderly, against COVID-19, she explained.
She went on to note that according to the results of national surveys conducted in five-year periods, during two short decades, nutritional short stature, which is caused by chronic malnutrition, has decreased from about 20 percent to about 4 percent, and children’s underweight from about 17 to 3.8 percent.
Iran’s measures toward a 75 percent reduction in the prevalence of child malnutrition have been officially recognized and praised by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), she highlighted.
Among the measures being taken in the current context of the corona crisis in the country is the identification of children under the age of five with malnutrition through electronic health records and their introduction to support organizations, she stated.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, about 47,000 financially struggling families with malnourished children under the age of five received livelihood assistance, she added.
Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation provides monthly food purchase assistance to the caregivers of 40,000 malnourished children under the age of five, identified with the Ministry of Health, and seeks to increase the number of children covered, she further said.
The nutrition support program for pregnant women with malnutrition is being implemented by the Ministry of Health, and efforts are being made to meet the nutritional needs of mothers by issuing a defined food purchase card on a monthly basis. So, 80,000 pregnant women are covered by nutritional support, she also explained.
Micronutrient supplement program is under implementation, under which supplements like vitamin D, iron, folic acid, multivitamin minerals are distributed free of charge among pregnant women, children under two years, the elderly, and students to strengthen the immune system against the virus, she added.
At a time when some countries are exposed to food insecurity due to the economic consequences of the pandemic, Iran has put the issue of food security on the agenda and by implementing support programs for vulnerable groups despite credit constraints and oppressive sanctions, she concluded.
The number of people diagnosed with coronavirus in Iran reached 388,810 on Monday, of whom 22,410 have died and 335,572 recovered so far. Over the past 24 hours, 2,152 new cases of people having the virus have been identified, and 117 died, Sima Sadat Lari ministry of health’s spokesman said.
Currently, 3,737 patients with coronavirus are in critical condition, she added.
Hunger increases worldwide
A new report jointly prepared by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO shows that currently around 690 million people, or 8.9 percent of the world population are hungry. Compared to the previous figures, this number is up by 10 million people in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years.
“The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020” also indicates that the number of people affected by severe food insecurity has experienced a similar upward trend over the last five years. In 2019, close to 750 million—or nearly one in ten people in the world—were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity.
The figures reveal that about 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food in 2019.
Considering the widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is estimated that the pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario.
Also, the nutritional status of the most vulnerable population groups is likely to deteriorate further due to the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
While the burden of malnutrition in all its forms remains a challenge for the world, current estimates reveal that in 2019, 21.3 percent (144 million) of children under 5 years of age were stunted, 6.9 percent (47 million) wasted, and 5.6 percent (38.3 million) overweight.
The report states that healthy diets are unaffordable to many people, especially the poor, in every region of the world. The most conservative estimate shows they are unaffordable for more than 3 billion people in the world. Healthy diets are estimated to be, on average, five times more expensive than diets that meet only dietary energy needs through a starchy staple.
Under current food consumption patterns, diet-related health costs linked to mortality and non-communicable diseases are projected to exceed USD 1.3 trillion per year by 2030.
On the other hand, the diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions associated with current dietary patterns is estimated to be more than USD 1.7 trillion per year by 2030.
Iran’s undernourishment prevalence
According to the report, Iran experienced a relative reduction in the prevalence of undernourishment in its total population, dropping from 5.2 percent in the period of 2004-2006 to 4.7 percent in the period of 2017-2019. However, despite this improvement, the net number of people experiencing undernourishment increased from 3.6 to 3.9 million.