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WFP Head Leads Davos Debate On Raising Healthy Children

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran asked a panel of experts at Davos: How can we raise healthy children in today’s world, when we face the double burden of undernourishment and overnourishment?

Former executive director Josette Sheeran speaking into a microphone

U2 singer Bono, co-founder of ONE and of the RED campaign, was asked this afternoon to rate the progress that had been made in child health in recent years. He gave the world a mark of 6 out of 10.

“People dismiss events like the World Economic Forum as ‘talk shops’,” he said, “but actually as a result of the initiatives born here since 2004, about 6,000 children’s lives are saved every single day. That’s pretty good news at a time when there’s not much good news around.”

Bono’s endorsement of Davos came during a plenary session chaired by WFP’s Executive Director Josette Sheeran.  The question she put the panel of experts was: How can we raise healthy children in today’s world, when we face the double burden of undernourishment and overnourishment?

Good nutrition, vaccines, bed nets and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, was the answer provided by Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation.

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation emphasised the need to invest in women, who are the key to building healthy families, and also vaccines, which she described as “miracle technology which we in the developed world take for granted”.

Sheeran asked the CEO of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, how the private sector can help accelerate the impact of the solutions outlined. Kent pointed to deep-rooted partnerships with civil society and governments to innovate with an impact as the key answer.

The panel then went on to tackle the “elephant in the room” issue, as Bono described it, of how to maintain the momentum on these interventions at a time of recession and aid budget cuts.

Chan reminded listeners that the cuts in social services such as health and education during the recession of the 1970s is still making its negative consequences felt today, while Gates pointed to innovations brought about by the private sector to make aid dollars go further through increased efficiencies.

In conclusion, Sheeran pointed out that we now carry the “burden of knowledge”, in that we know about the irreversible damage done to children’s development if they are not given a chance of a healthy start in life, and we also know which interventions are necessary to prevent this. Armed with this knowledge, and fully aware of the financial and social costs of the failure to do so, we have no excuse not to take on responsibility for raising healthy children.