Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Changing how food aid is allocated 'may save more lives'

Andrew Williams in International development agencies may be able to save the lives of a greater number of undernourished children by changing how they allocate food aid in developing countries, suggests a study published today (4 March) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Instead of allocating food based solely on weight-for-height measurements, as is currently recommended, making use of additional 'height-for-age' data reduced the effects of malnutrition by nine per cent in the study.

Also, the same end results in alleviating malnutrition were achieved with the new method as with the current one but with a 61 per cent cut in the cost of providing ready-to-use therapeutic and supplementary food, the study found. The study also proposes that when making crucial food allocation decisions, aid agencies should prioritise those children most in need — even if it means that others go without.

Lawrence M. Wein, professor of management science at Stanford University, United States, and the corresponding author of the study, says one of the main results is that "relative to the currently used policies, incorporating height-for-age information into the allocation decision improves performance — that is, it saves lives".

The other key finding is that "the optimal policy is an 'all-or-nothing' policy where the most at-risk children receive 500 kilocalories per day and the other children receive nothing," he says.  But because of the limited scope of the study, the authors do not make specific policy recommendations....

Food aid in Kenya, USAID photo

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