Technology in Global Malnutrition: A Perspective from the Front Lines

African children gather hands together
Photo: Thinkstock/borgogniels

Technology’s role in anticipating or aiding those facing malnutrition continues to grow. I recently interviewed Academy Spokesperson and humanitarian aid worker Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, about how technology influenced her experience fighting malnutrition in Africa.

While there have been recent headlines predicting an increase in food security for some African countries, food insecurity is still a serious threat for the African continent. Famine is currently declared in a portion of South Sudan, while Somalia, Yemen and northern Nigeria are at risk for famine. Technology in Global Malnutrition: A Perspective from the Front Lines - The United Nations and World Food Programme state this is the “largest humanitarian food crisis since (World War II).”

Nutrition Surveys

The use of nutrition surveys to assess the magnitude and severity of a humanitarian crisis is not new but technology to power the tools continues to evolve. Emergency Nutrition Assessment software provides user-friendly analytical tools that can automate processes such as data quality checks and standardizing anthropometric data.

The Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions survey, which Davis has used in the field, balances simplicity and technology for rapid assessment of acute emergencies while focusing on assessing the magnitude and severity of a humanitarian crisis via two basic and vital health qualifiers: the nutritional status of children under 5 and the population mortality rate.

Another tool Davis has experience with is the Semi-Quantitative Evaluation of Access and Coverage survey, which assesses coverage, determining if a program already is in place, and if so, how well it is working to meet the needs of its target population.

A more recently emerging tool in the global nutrition field is the Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition model toolkit. This web-based toolkit, created in 2012 and revised in 2016, is a rapid start-up resource and a compilation of tools needed by program managers either at the onset of or during a crisis.

Looking Toward the Future Despite Limitations

The obvious limitation of technology in the field of global nutrition is limited electricity and often unreliable internet service. Yet during Mascha’s time in the field she noted the prevalence of cell phones was greater than that of clean water. While there were several areas in which she wished for updates to occur, such as improvements in the quality of available therapeutic foods, her biggest hope for technology is in preventative service. For example, increased usage of mobile communication platforms such as D-Tree and CommCare for disseminating health information and resources. Her eyes are set on the future, and in a world where technology continues to remove boundaries, she hopes that it also can help reduce the number of families wondering where their next meal will come from.

Click here for more on Mascha Davis and her work in global nutrition.

Eva Weston
Eva Weston, DTR, NBC-HWC, and University of Houston dietetic intern, is currently California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - Los Angeles District fundraising co-chair and San Gabriel Valley area coordinator.