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Malnutrition comes in three main forms: undernutrition, which accounts for nearly half of all deaths among children under five, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity. While less commonly identified with malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity are intricately connected to undernutrition. In fact, of the 141 countries analyzed in the 2018 Global Nutrition Report, 41 were found to have high rates of all three problems.
USAID has made strides to reduce malnutrition by implementing programs with proven track records of success and by taking on new, potentially game-changing projects. For the most part, these efforts have been centered around the systematic issues that generate malnutrition. The first concrete objective is outlined in the agency’s Multi-Sectoral Nutritional Strategy for 2014-2025. It states that “Increased timely delivery of critical services before and during humanitarian crises.” As such, USAID focuses on preempting possible emergencies, pre-positioning nutritional resources, and collaborating with local governments and NGOs to devise response plans.
In collaboration with the non-profit GiveDirectly, USAID set up a nutrition intervention study among 248 Rwandan villages. It split into four groups: a control group (receiving no aid), a group participating in a USAID-funded nutrition program, a group receiving a cash transfer of $116.91 a month and a group receiving a cash transfer of $532 a month. Remarkably, both cash transfer groups outperformed the USAID-funded program group. The group receiving $532 a month experienced a 70 percent decrease in child mortality. Though this is only one study, the lesson is promising. USAID’s nutrition strategy is not completely confined to the methods of the past.