Hunger kills more people worldwide than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, and children are the most vulnerable. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 104 million children around the world are undernourished and 175.5 million suffer from stunted growth because their bodies do not have enough nutrients. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases account for 35 percent (3.1 million) of the 8.8 million deaths of children younger than five each year. Malnutrition can be caused by lack of adequate food, illness, and poor caring practices among other structural and sociocultural factors– but it is preventable and acute malnutrition is curable.

International Medical Corps runs nutrition and food security programs on three different continents in some of the world’s most food-stressed areas, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan, Darfur and Yemen. In our programs, we address nutrition with a holistic approach including both the prevention and treatment of undernourishment. Our interventions address underlying causes of malnutrition through integrated nutrition programs encompassing primary health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, livelihood and socio-economic programs. We work with all levels of government, civil society and caregivers to improve their ability to provide the range of nutrition activities needed to promote healthy growth and prevent malnutrition in children. Our nutrition and food security programs aimed at preventing and treating malnutrition contribute towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating hunger and reducing child mortality rates by 2015.

Responding to Malnutrition

International Medical Corps has a strong history of responding to nutrition needs in emergencies starting with the 1992 Somalia Famine. International Medical Corps malnutrition treatment evolved from a strictly center-based approach in the 1990s to a community-based approach using the best practice approach of Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) model to manage moderate and severe acute malnutrition. The CMAM model provides:

  • Community outreach and mobilization for nutrition education, and early detection and prompt referral of malnourished children to available services
  • Minimal inpatient care for severely malnourished children with medical complications
  • Outpatient care for severely malnourished children with no medical complications to reduce:
        • Time needed for recovery
        • Burden on the mother
        • Cost of running an inpatient program
        • Exposure to other diseases that can weaken their immunity
  • Supplementary feeding for moderately malnourished children to prevent children from becoming severely malnourished and needing more intensive treatment

Preventing Malnutrition

International Medical Corps places an emphasis on preventing malnutrition. Prevention not only reduces the cost of programs, but more importantly protects children from the devastating long-term effects of malnutrition. Without proper nutrition, which includes all the necessary micronutrients, a child’s physical and mental development is stunted. This in turn impacts his or her potential to become a fully functioning member of society. International Medical Corps malnutrition programs focus on the period from conception through the 23rd month of a child's life - the "1000-day window of opportunity" - as a critical opportunity for preventing stunting and physical and mental disabilities associated with malnutrition. We provide a combination of growth monitoring, nutrition education and individualized counseling and micronutrient supplementation through health facilities and as part of our ante and postnatal care, infant checkups and community outreach. Our nutrition education and counseling promotes healthy pregnancies and infant and young child feeding practices that include exclusive breastfeeding and appropriate introduction of complementary food to ensure healthy growth at the fetal stage, during infancy and early childhood.

To reinforce nutrition messages and create behavior change in the community, International Medical Corps works with local communities to develop peer support groups including the Care Group model, mother-to-mother groups, and the Men as Partners approach. Care Groups are led by local female volunteers trained by International Medical Corps that meet on a regular basis with mothers and their young children.  The goals of these community-based behavior change interventions are to:

  • Prevent malnutrition by disseminating nutrition, health, family planning and hygiene information
  • Improve mother/child interaction through methods like infant stimulation
  • Empower mothers and fathers, and their community to take responsibility for the growth and development of their children

Mother Care Groups improve behavior change, bring down costs per beneficiary, and build a sustainable community-level health promotion structure.  Health and nutritional improvement cannot be ensured unless communities are aware of and utilize available health services. In addition, most of the decision-making regarding critical influential behaviors occurs in the home. Thus, International Medical Corps targets health facilities, community leaders, households and individuals to bring positive and lasting changes in attitudes, knowledge and behaviors. 

Food Security

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In addition, food security encompasses the availability, access, use and stability of nutritious food.

International Medical Corps’ food security programs focus on empowering communities and especially women to provide nutritious foods for their families. The programs include support for home gardens to increase dietary and micro nutrition diversity of available foods for families; design and piloting of household food storage capacity so harvested food is properly stored, decreasing food losses and ensuring that families have food to last them; distribution of seeds and tools to help families produce their own food; water projects that assist families in irrigating their gardens; and emergency food distributions for poor families so they do not have to sell assets to purchase food. 

Examples of International Medical Corps' Nutrition Programs.