Administrator Samantha Power at the UN High-Level Event: “The Child Malnutrition Crisis: Pledging to Save Lives”

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

“The Child Malnutrition Crisis: Pledging to Save Lives” at the United Nations General Assembly 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, everybody who has gathered here today. Thank you, Cathy, for your leadership. It's been incredible to partner with you on this very compressed fundraising drive brought about by a very grave emergency out in the world. And I think it's fair to say that while there are very difficult circumstances that people are confronting right now, there is also, as Vanessa said, there is real hope. There is a real prospect to end not just child wasting, but other crises affecting kids around the world. And I personally feel really honored to be a part of this group today and every day. 

Earlier this year, like Vanessa, I traveled to the Horn of Africa, where I also witnessed the impact of the wasting firsthand. From humanitarian partners in Somalia, I heard stories of families trekking long, dangerous roads to relief sites—and if the sites were too far, burying their children on the side of the road. In Kenya, I spoke with mothers and fathers who had lost livestock and livelihoods, in the case of the mothers whose husbands had often abandoned them, and those mothers who had risked their lives to get help for their children. I saw babies, just a few months old, born into hunger, who were too weak to cry.

But I also heard stories with happy endings and the contrast between these two kinds of endings could not be more vivid right now, out in the world. I heard stories of new beginnings of sons and daughters, regaining their strength after just weeks of treatment. Of parents once resigned to their children's inevitable passing, blessed suddenly with renewal, of communities celebrating instead of mourning of lives recovered. And that is what we're here today to try to expand those stories, those stories of renewal, those recoveries. We have the chance together to turn what has been for so long a story of despair into one of hope, because the truth is, as others have said, wasting is treatable. 

Complex cases require specialized medical attention, but for straightforward cases caught early,  treatment is cost-effective and can be done at home. Families need only a community health worker to assess and monitor their child, and provide the right amount of ready-to-use therapeutic food, or RUTF, which can reverse the wasting condition in a matter of weeks. And a full course of treatment costs just over $100. 

Yet only a third of children suffering from wasting today receive the treatment they need. And with more funding, better delivery systems, and improved access to healthcare, we can empower communities to save their children’s lives. 

This goal enjoys bipartisan support in the United States. Just yesterday, in fact as some of you may have seen, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that authorizes USAID’s evidence-based approach to preventing and treating malnutrition around the globe, in partnership with other U.S. federal agencies. 

The bill, which is now headed to the President for signature, codifies and strengthens our significant work supporting malnourished children around the world. This past July, in addition to our already scaled-up support for wasting treatment, USAID announced a one-time commitment of $200 million to UNICEF to procure supplies of RUTF and support the programs that deliver it. It was the most significant, single investment in this essential treatment – this miracle treatment – in history. And we were joined by the Eleanor Crook Foundation, the CRI Foundation, the ELMA Relief Foundation, and Sir Chris Hohn of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation combined for another $50 million in investment.

But the truth is that the majority of children facing severe malnutrition, nearly two-thirds of children who need treatment, live in places who don’t normally receive humanitarian aid. We are working to change that – to recognize that treatment for severe malnutrition should be accessible not just in humanitarian settings, but in non-crisis settings as well. 

That’s why, in July, alongside our combined $250 million announcement, I issued a challenge to raise another $250 million in investments, and set a deadline with Cathy Russell and UNICEF, a deadline of this week, UN General Assembly High-Level Week.

And in the intervening days, I will confess to you, I was not sure that issuing that challenge was my best idea. And it was a very ambitious target and the timeline was very tight. And it goes without saying that there are so many competing needs in the world right now, and many of you are coming from events that speak to those needs as well. 

Ultimately, we didn't raise the $250 million, we raised more than $280 million. And that is because of you. It is because of you who dug deep, who found a way to find resources that seemed like they couldn't exist given the tight budgets. And again, all of those competing demands. And the range of individuals, institutions, foundations and governments, the range of friends, who stepped up – not just friends of USAID and UNICEF, but above all friends of those kids who are out there in the world who need this miracle potion, this miracle paste to survive. 

That includes governments that we're going to hear from, and I’m so excited to hear from Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada, who answered our call with more funding than we could have ever expected, again, amid very significant national needs as well as those massive international needs.

It includes philanthropies, humanitarian organizations, and individuals – our co-hosts, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation – King Philanthropies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Dangote Foundation – coming in at the 11th hour with a very significant pledge – the Greta Thunberg Foundation, the CRI Foundation, the Eleanor Crook Foundation, ELMA Philanthropies, the Humanitarian Services of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and John O’Farrell and Gloria Principe. 

I’m so grateful to all of you for your substantial support for this fight against severe malnutrition. This is a real moment of hope and partner governments have an important role to play on the ground like our co-host Senegal. And let me just take a moment. I know we'll hear from Senegal, but just to speak to what Senegal is doing itself.

In 2020, Senegal was one of the first countries that used domestic resources to purchase RUTF supplies through a UNICEF pilot match fund. By reducing its reliance on external donors, Senegal thereby frees up resources for other countries and other children whose governments may not have even modest resources to be able to deliver to do the same.

We need every partner government on the ground grappling with this horrific challenge to at least try to follow Senegal's lead and to commit domestic resources to end wasting once and for all. We have everything we need now to change this story in communities and the world.

UNICEF House New York, New York

Last updated: September 22, 2022

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