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Q&A with Andrea Tamburini, CEO of Action Against Hunger

Q&A with Andrea Tamburini, CEO of Action Against Hunger


Action Against Hunger (ACF International), is a global humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger. They work to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with access to safe water and sustainable solutions to hunger.

Malnutrition is often overlooked to many of us in the developed world, but it claims the lives of one million children a year.

Nutrition is such an important factor in a child’s life especially at an early age. Action Against Hunger has years of experience dealing with this issue and tackling the root problems. Action Against Hunger treats and prevents malnutrition in over 45 countries around the world.

In 2014 alone, they served 13 million people across their intervention areas, including treating 5 million people around the world for malnutrition and illness including:

  • 2,718,401 people in Nigeria
  • 104,117 people in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 93,043 people in South Sudan

The great thing about this issue is that it is solvable and it is being solved everyday by amazing people. How is this being accomplished? Through years of research and testing. Years of people being on the ground. Years of doctors, nutritionists, and volunteers all pitching in to solve this global problem.

Below is a quick Q&A with the CEO of Action Against Hunger, Andrea Tamburini.

Q&A with Andrea Tamburini, CEO of Action Against HungerQ: What do you see as some of the most efficient ways to treat malnutrition and eventually end the global issue?
When I talk to people who care about ending hunger but don’t have a deep knowledge about the topic, I always love their surprised reaction upon learning how inexpensive and efficient it is to save a child’s life. Just $45 covers a full treatment regimen, which breaks down to $1 a day for 45 days of treatment. There are some severe cases of malnutrition that need first to be treated in hospital or clinical settings with therapeutic milk — but most of those patients graduate to outpatient treatment. And many patients don’t need the clinical setting at all.

What’s revolutionizing the way we treat malnutrition is an approach called Community Management of Acute Malnutrition, or CMAM. We use it heavily. CMAM calls for a child to be treated largely at home. A parent is able to bring nutrient-dense, protein- and calorie-packed peanut-based paste home with them to treat their child — these ready-to-use therapeutic foods, as they’re called (or RUTFs) resemble protein bars and don’t need any preparation or refrigeration. Just open and eat. Kids love them!

Of course it’s one thing (one amazing thing!) to save a child’s life, but it’s quite another to give a family and a community the tools and resources to ensure that child doesn’t get sick again. That’s where our complementary programs come into play. In addition to treating malnutrition, we also focus on providing communities with water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions — as dirty water and poor sanitation and hygiene are big contributors to making kids sick and undoing the positive effects of whatever nutrition they are getting. We also work heavily in the areas of food security and livelihoods and disaster preparedness, working with communities and governments to build the infrastructure they need to sustain themselves.

Q: You have been with Action Against Hunger since 2010.What are some of the key progress indicators that keep you optimistic every day about tackling malnutrition around the globe?

We are very close to meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger between 1990 and 2015. That is exciting.

The UN’s annual hunger report, issued in May by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program indicates that the number of hungry people globally has declined from approximately a billion 25 years ago to about 795 million today — despite tremendous population growth.

In 1990, 23.3 percent of the population in developing regions were hungry. Today, that figure is 12.9 percent.

I’ve also been pleased by the results in the 2015 Global Food Security Index. During the past year food security has increased in almost every region of the world.

And lastly, on a personal note, I am excited that Action Against Hunger’s reach numbers are increasing each year. It may seem counter-intuitive, but to me more beneficiaries doesn’t signal more problems. It signals that we are continuously doing a better job of finding the people who need our assistance and providing it to them.

Q: For those of us who are not really aware or understand what malnutrition is, can explain to us what it is and what its affect on a child can be?

Routine nourishment allows people to secure the energy their bodies need to support vital organ functions, cell development, and tissue maintenance. Acute malnutrition occurs when the body doesn’t receive this nourishment and exhausts its energy reserves — the body begins to consume its own tissues in search of the nutrients and energy it needs to survive, targeting muscle and body fat first. The body’s metabolism begins to slow, thermal regulation is disrupted, kidney function is impaired, and the immune system’s capacity is diminished. The greater the loss of muscle and other tissue, the less likely the chances of survival.

Acute malnutrition’s most extreme form, severe acute malnutrition, is a deadly condition if left untreated. It afflicts an estimated 17 million children worldwide, and every year one million children under age five die because of it. This loss of life is all the more tragic because severe acute malnutrition is predictable, preventable, and treatable.

Q: As technology continues to evolve, how have you seen it help Action Against Hunger over the past few years and do you see it being a vital part of the progress over the next decade or so?

Tremendously. In every aspect of our work, we aim to utilize technology to increase scale and efficiency. The examples are many, but I’ll give you a recent one.

In the past year, with funding from UNICEF and technical support from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we piloted a new way to gather crucial nutrition data during emergencies. Our surveillance emergency team traveled to some of the most remote areas of South Sudan to collect nutrition data, using this new method, Rapid SMART, to provide actionable information in one-third of the time.

The data we collected informed the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis and allowed the humanitarian community to track the impact of their interventions. This information is key in determining where children had the highest rates of malnutrition, providing the information necessary to save lives.

I’d also like to note that some of the best ingenuity and creative thinking comes from our field workers — engineers, technical advisers, logisticians, and program managers who come up with amazing solutions to tough problems in the difficult environments where they work. And in our New York headquarters, we aim to contribute too — we have an Innovation Working Group here, comprised of employees from across many functions and who have a vast array of talents and skills to contribute.

Q: What are some of the most important ingredients and nutrients in the meals that Action For Hunger delivers to individuals who are fighting malnutrition?

As referenced above, RUTFs are genius products. The not-so-secret weapon is a peanut-based paste that is full of protein, healthy fats, calories, and important nutrients. You’ll find ingredients like vegetable fat, peanut butter, skimmed milk powder, lactoserum, maltodextrin, sugar, and a mineral and vitamin complex on the label. They are true super foods!

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