David Miliband on the International Rescue Committee and Malnutrition: ‘The biggest problem is the idea that we can’t conquer it.’

David Milliband is the CEO of the International Rescue Committee, which is a humanitarian organisation that helps people affected by conflict, war, and natural disasters. Before that, he was the UK Foreign Secretary.

Right For Education met David Miliband at the World Innovation Summit for Health last year, where he talked about the International Rescue Committee and their work on malnutrition.


Malnutrition is a very serious condition that is caused by not having the right amount of nutrients in the diet.
51 million children suffer from acute malnutrition (rapid weight loss). 90% (9 out of 10)do not have any access to treatment. Each year, 3.1 million children die from malnutrition.
The most obvious cause of malnutrition is not having enough food, or not having the right type of food. However, diseases (for example malaria) and poor access to healthcare also increase the risk of malnutrition.
Malnutrition is particularly common in areas where there is war, or weak governments.
Malnutrition can be deadly. Nearly half of all deaths of children less than 5 years old are linked to malnutrition.
A child with malnutrition is at increased risk of infections. They are also much less likely to grow and learn to their full potential.


“The biggest problem we face is not malnutrition. The biggest problem is the idea that we can’t conquer it.” – David Milliband, the CEO of the International Rescue Committee

Very simply, the cure for malnutrition is food. However, this must be given in the right way, at the right speed. If the food is given too quickly, this can cause even more problems. Children with malnutrition are given carefully measured amounts of food, to build their strength up.

The IRC have come up with some very simple solutions to improve the treatment of malnutrition. The most important part of this is training community health workers to deliver the treatment.

The IRC have developed simple instructions that can be used to treat children with malnutrition. They have done research that shows that: with a just a few days training, community health workers who have low literacy levels and no formal education can successfully use these instructions treat children with severe malnutrition!

This is so important, because, especially in places where there is war, it can be very difficult for families to access doctors and nurses. The role of community health workers, who live in the local community, is vital.

So far, the IRC has tested this solution in South Sudan, and is continuing to test it in Mali, Chad, and Nigeria.

You can read more about their work here: https://www.rescue.org and about the work on malnutrition here https://www.rescue.org/article/groundbreaking-approach-treating-acute-malnutrition.

Right for Education will publish more articles on health in conflict areas, and health of refugees, later this year.

But for now we wanted to share this quote with you. The IRC works in many conflict areas in Africa. We asked David Miliband what he would say to a person who is living in a conflict area:

“Your courage and tenacity is an inspiration to every single person who works for us.

We (the IRC) are not a ‘heroic’ Western organisation jetting in to help. We know that the first step in any survival strategy is the person who is surviving. We know that it’s so important to recognise what people are doing to save their own lives – and if we can support them, then I think that’s a hell of a partnership”

Right for Education


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