Cost Effective Interventions for Hunger and Malnutrition

The Copenhagen Consensus Centre is a think tank of leading economists who meet every four years to discuss what they regard as some of the world’s ‘top ten’ crisis areas: air pollution, conflict, disease, education, global warming, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water, subsidies and trade barriers, terrorism, and women and development. 

Children in one of the classes run by Philani Child Health and Nutrition Project in Khayelitsha.

Out of this morass of global challenges, the economists were asked to list 30 interventions and rank them on a cost-benefit basis. According to them, the single most cost-effective intervention was simply this: micronutrient supplements of vitamin A and zinc for children.

Similarly, the World Bank estimates that micronutrient deficiencies can be dealt with for as little as US$0.05 to US$3.60 per child (between 12 and 24 months) every year, while the returns ‘on investment are as high as 8 to 30 times the costs’.

The following is a list of solutions to the problem of malnutrition and hunger from the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus: Community-based nutritional promotion; deworming (since these parasites steal nutrients from the body and can cause blood loss and anaemia) and promoting good nutrition in schools; micronutrient fortification, particularly iron and salt iodisation; biofortification of crops (the breeding of crops that are strengthened with nutrients, particularly relevant in the African context where soils are relatively nutrient-poor; however, these nutrients need to be biologically available – for instance, it is no good having a fortified maize crop if the nutrients go to the leaves of the plant, or if they are held in the kernel in a way that is not accessible to the body when it is eaten).

By Leonie Joubert