The lead Editorial in this week's Lancet calls for action on an epidemic much more serious than H1N1-the food crisis, which means a sixth of the world's population are currently undernourished. The Editorial says: "There is much at stake as delegates meet in Rome for the World Food Summit in 2 weeks' times. Despite two previous Summits, G8 and G20 promises, a plethora of new initiatives, and an increased investment in innovative technology, people around the world continue to die because they do not have enough food to eat."
According to a press release by EurekAlert, right now, over 1 billion people, mostly in Asia and Africa, are undernourished-the largest proportion of the global population for many decades. Yet donor funds to the World Food Programme, the UN agency charged with ensuring that people have sufficient food to survive, have fallen to a record low. Despite food prices falling from their record highs in mid-2008, food remains expensive-and to survive, poorer families have to make compromises, such as sacrificing health care, or simply eating less. And because of the concurrent economic crisis, there are few national food safety nets, such as school feeding programmes.
The Editorial says: "It is hard to imagine another situation that currently affects over a sixth of the global population, in which there is such abundant evidence of negative health sequel but where the treatment is simple-food-and prophylaxis is basic-eating enough food (preferably the unprocessed variety that can be cooked and prepared locally). If undernutrition were a disease, such as H1N1, and unprocessed food were a drug or vaccine, both would have the full attention of the entire international community."
It adds, "The current dysfunctional global nutrition system needs to be urgently fixed but the international community remains reluctant to take on this challenge... The world currently produces enough food to feed the entire global population. People become undernourished because the equitable global distribution of food seems to be beyond the capabilities of the international community. But with the future effects of climate change, no country can be complacent. Implementing fair and reliable global food supply and delivery systems now will have huge future benefits for all countries."
It concludes: "There has been enough talk and enough empty excuses. The international community can and must act now to ensure that a sixth of the world's population receive the treatment they need-nutritious food."