Editorial: Access to affordable food averts hunger

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Just like most countries in the world that continue to grapple with the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines is anxiously awaiting the rollout of a vaccine. After six months of being placed under varying degrees of lockdown, some areas continue to see increasing infections at an alarming rate. Elsewhere, more and more people continue to suffer economic pain because of government’s decision to limit a number of economic activities in line with its desire to stop the spread of the virus.

Although some countries are racing to get a vaccine out before the end of the year, experts say the best-case scenario is for a vaccine to be available in early 2021. Even then, not everyone will have access to it, and many people will have to wait in line as governments have vowed to prioritize frontliners and vulnerable groups once a vaccine is available. It also remains to be seen whether or not companies can immediately deliver the huge volume of vaccines required by many nations.

Unfortunately, the vaccine, if it comes at all, will not make the country’s problems immediately go away. Millions of Filipinos remain unemployed, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. As millions remain unable to earn enough to meet their needs, poor families will continue to experience hunger and starvation.

Despite the availability of food even during the pandemic, results of a recent Social Weather Stations survey indicated that many Filipinos experienced hunger in the past three months. The figure rose even higher after quarantine restrictions have been eased and thousands were able to return to work, based on the results of the survey, which was conducted this month. Hunger was at record-highs in Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao.

However, the hunger problem is not unique to the Philippines as countries that saw spikes in their Covid-19 cases are also facing a hunger crisis. Latin America and Caribbean nations are expected to see a surge in the number of people that will grapple with food insecurity over the coming months, according to a Bloomberg report. The World Food Program also said disruptions caused by Covid-19 will double the number of food insecure people this year.

The global hunger problem will hit women and children the hardest and is seen undoing the progress made by countries, such as the Philippines, to fight malnutrition and cut maternal deaths. Food insecurity and health system disruptions caused by Covid-19 could increase maternal and under-5 child deaths in 118 low-income and middle-income countries, including the Philippines. In an article in The Lancet Global Health, experts estimated that even a small reduction in coverage and use of maternal and child health services could lead to 42,240 additional child deaths and 2,030 additional maternal deaths per month.

We recognize the importance of long-term plans, such as a road map detailing strategies to ensure food security. However, stopgap measures to reduce hunger are currently needed as the Philippines awaits the discovery of a vaccine. We urge government to find immediate solutions that will allow the unemployed and the poor to have access to affordable food. As supply is not an issue, food products must be brought to those that need them the most in the time of the pandemic.

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