The recent ‘Nutrition for Growth’ summit to discuss the issue of worldwide child malnutrition was co-hosted by the government of Brazil. Brazilian leaders have shown themselves to be particularly committed to reducing the number of under-fives suffering from malnourishment. This commitment has led to an average reduction in stunting rates among young children of more than 5% each year over the past two decades.
Such success has partly been achieved through the widespread implementation of social protection schemes for the poorest family, such as the ‘Bolsa Familia’ or Family Allowance. This acts as the main instrument of the government’s efforts to boost the buying power of poor families so they can afford better food for their children. Brazil’s leaders hope that the achievements of such a scheme will prove an inspiration for other nations.
But social protection isn’t the only tool Brazil uses to reduce malnutrition rates among its poorest and most vulnerable children. A recent BBC article focuses on an innovative scheme run by hospitals in Brazil to ensure premature babies receive breast milk. The importance of the right nutrition in the first two years of a child’s life is now widely understood, including the vital role breast milk plays in providing exactly the right nutrients in the first six months and protecting children from exposure to contaminated food. Intensive care units in Brazil are therefore collecting donated milk from feeding mothers and providing this through a tube to babies in incubators.
There are now over 200 human milk banks across Brazil, making this programme the largest and most effective of its kind in the world. Speaking to the BBC, the Brazilian coordinator of the scheme said it was just one element of encouraging breast-feeding in the country and they praised the government for “actively promot[ing] these policies, [and] supporting us financially and with promotional campaigns”.
As our appreciation grows about the vital nature of good nutrition in a child’s early years and how this helps to protect them against illness, as well as ensuring healthy development of the brain, Brazilian schemes such as the breast milk banks prove an inspirational example of what can be achieved to ensure a nation’s children are better fed.