The international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, opened a photo exhibition titled Starved for Attention earlier this month at The Times Center in New York City. The exhibition is part of a multimedia campaign on the crisis of childhood malnutrition that MSF is spearheading in conjunction with VII Photo, an agency created in 2001 by seven leading photojournalists from across the world.
The campaign was conceived two years ago and each photojournalist covered one country as part of the exercise, bringing back frontline photographs and video footage from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, India, Mexico and the US.
MSF estimates that 195 million children worldwide suffer from the effects of malnutrition, with 90% of them living in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The organization has done substantial fieldwork in treating and preventing malnutrition and currently operates 120 nutrition programmes in 36 countries.
Click here to view a slideshow on a photo exhibition organised by Médecins Sans Frontières brings together portraits of childhood malnutrition from seven countries.
The task for the seven photojournalists—Marcus Bleasdale, Jessica Dimmock, Ron Haviv, Antonin Kratochvil, Franco Pagetti, Stephanie Sinclair and John Stanmeyer—was to capture a new visual identity for malnutrition in order to bring forth the underlying causes of the malnutrition crisis and fuel innovative approaches to combat this condition.
Countries that have developed successful programmes to combat malnutrition, such as Mexico, were also included. “We did not only want to highlight the problem of malnutrition; we wanted to showcase innovative and successful strategies and programmes too. Countries such as Mexico, Thailand and Brazil have reduced early childhood malnutrition through direct nutrition programmes that ensure infants and young children from even the poorest families have access to quality foods, such as milk and eggs,” says Jason Cone, communications director, MSF, who also believes that there is growing political will in Asian and African countries to replicate successful programmes such as these. The World Bank estimates that $12 billion (around Rs56,000 crore) a year is needed to scale up effective nutrition programmes to meet current needs.
In the case of India, American photojournalist Sinclair turned her lens on MSF’s nutrition programme in Bihar’s Darbhanga district. Sinclair is known for her humanitarian reportage and has won, among other awards, Unicef’s Photo of the Year award in 2007. “The families were all very open and gracious about allowing me to photograph their experiences of commuting to the MSF facilities and receiving treatment for their children,” says Sinclair of her experience of working in Bihar in April.
The Starved for Attention campaign and petition is active online. It is a travelling exhibition, with shows planned in Toronto, to coincide with the Group of Eight (G-8) and Group of Twenty (G-20) meetings, and in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to coincide with a major West African health meeting organized by the Corporate Africa Health Foundation. After that, it will show in London, Milan and Rome.
The petition drive will last until World Food Day on 16 October, when MSF will develop events in key food aid donor countries (the US, UK, Japan, Canada, Australia and European Union countries) to highlight public support for improving the quality of food aid and supporting initiatives. “The overall objective is to push the main contributors of food aid to cease sending foods that are inappropriate for young children,” says Cone, referring to one of the principal points of the campaign, which highlights how the US is sending substandard food to poorer countries—food that it would not feed its own citizens.
For more images, videos and blogs by the photojournalists, log on to www.starvedforattention.org