Save the Children’s Global Malnutrition Initiative: A conversation with GMI Chair, Robert Glick OBE.
The efforts of the international community and the generosity of the British public helped to avert a catastrophic famine in the Horn of Africa in 2017. Three years later, however, the region is facing more severe flooding and drought.
Our teams know how to identify and treat malnutrition – more than 80% of children who receive treatment recover. But currently, only a fifth of those who desperately need treatment can access it because health services are not easily accessible to them.
In response, Save the Children launched The Global Malnutrition Initiative (GMI) – an approach to treating children with acute malnutrition closer to home, using simplified tools and adapted treatment methods.
We caught up with Robert Glick OBE, Chair of the GMI Board. Robert, who is engaged in a number of causes, was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen for services to charity, including having previously served as Chair of the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Today, Robert is Vice President of International Government Affairs & Corporate Communications at American Express. As Chair of the GMI Board, along with fellow Board members, Robert is determined to help change the way malnutrition is prevented, diagnosed and treated in some of the world’s most fragile countries.
In this interview Robert outlines his work with the GMI and Save the Children:
Why did you choose to focus your support on fighting malnutrition?
“All children should have the chance to fulfil their potential, but right now the future of around 50 million children is at risk because of malnutrition.
For the first time in decades global hunger is on the rise. Nearly half of all deaths in children under five are associated with children not having enough to eat or not being able to access life-saving treatment for malnutrition. It’s an especially critical factor in tackling pneumonia, the biggest infectious killer of children younger than five. It robs them of their health and impacts their stamina and energy. It can also have a devastating impact on their ability to learn; malnourished children can take longer to learn to read, and struggle to concentrate or stay in school. This means malnutrition can have ruinous lifelong consequences for children. If we tackle malnutrition, we also tackle so many of the devastating secondary impacts that stand in the way of children being able to achieve their dreams.”
How is the Global Malnutrition Initiative providing a solution?
“The Global Malnutrition Initiative adopts an innovative approach to treating malnutrition.
We focus on fragile and conflict-affected countries where children are most at risk of not being able to receive the treatment they need, including Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
Some 60% of children in these areas don’t receive the malnutrition support they need, largely because they are unable to reach distant health centres. The Initiative brings health and nutrition care directly into communities, so that all children have the chance to access life-saving treatment. Three core elements drive the approach:
- Testing and scaling up pioneering approaches to detect and treat malnutrition in hard-to-reach areas. Through the Initiative, local health workers receive training to give malnourished children the treatment they need within their communities. Increasingly, especially in light of COVID-19, we’re also offering more families training in how to detect acute malnutrition in their own children. This innovation minimises families’ contact with health workers, and enables them to act faster when their children become unwell. We’re conducting research on these approaches, adding to the evidence base which proves they are effective.
- We’ll use the evidence and research to advocate for improved approaches to treating and managing acute malnutrition into global guidelines and national plans.
- Influencing key international stakeholders and national governments to commit long-term and large-scale funding, so we can improve the way we treat and fund malnutrition for good.”
What stands out as a particular achievement?
“I am especially proud that my employer, American Express, was the first corporate contributor to the Global Malnutrition Initiative, and has since made a second timely and impactful grant.
Community Health Volunteer Mark, 37, checks the weight of 18-month-old Lawrence, who was recently diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.
What matters most is the life-changing impact this support can bring to communities dealing with malnutrition. I am really encouraged when I read what people like Mark, a Community Health Worker in Kenya, have said to Save the Children:
“I am happy to treat my people whenever I do my clinic rounds. It is a pleasure to see a healthy community […] What I like most about being a Community Health Visitor is that I am able to diagnose severe malnutrition and successfully treat it and to advise expectant mothers and see them deliver safely.”
This support must continue to be available for children. My hope is that Amex’s participation can help unlock other grants that will go toward Save the Children’s emergency appeal to treat malnutrition in the communities most at risk."
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the work of the Global Malnutrition Initiative?
“The pandemic represents an unprecedented threat to the progress the Initiative has made thus far; as fragile health systems become overwhelmed, we have to guarantee that children and their families continue to receive life-saving treatment for acute malnutrition. And we have to ensure that community health workers, at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, are given the tools and training they require to deliver malnutrition treatment safely.”
Learn more about Save the Children’s Global Malnutrition Initiative.