MSF-VII Photo Collaborative Series on Childhood Malnutrition Nominated for Emmy

August 28th, 2012

NEW YORK, JULY 24, 2012—A groundbreaking multimedia documentary series exposing global childhood malnutrition, a collaboration between the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the renowned VII photojournalism and media company, has been nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy Award, a milestone recognition of an innovative form of advocacy journalism.

The joint project, Starved for Attention, is composed of eight short multimedia documentaries, spanning reportage in nine countries. Collectively, they present a multi-faceted perspective of childhood malnutrition, a preventable and treatable condition that nonetheless claims the lives of millions of children every year. The documentaries form the core of a global campaign launched by MSF in 2010, with the goal of achieving key reforms of a global food aid system that has failed to ensure that young, vulnerable children receive foods that actually meet their specific nutritional requirements.

“The nomination is a notable validation of a highly collaborative and innovative story telling model,” said Stephen Mayes, managing director of VII Photo and co-executive producer of Starved for Attention. “Starved for Attention’s impact stems from the sum of its parts: leading photojournalists committed to documenting neglected humanitarian crises; frontline medical professionals struggling to alleviate human suffering; and filmmakers movingly conveying the inherent possibility of combating a deadly scourge.”

The convergence of field medicine, documentary reportage, and film and web production culminated in a unique form of advocacy journalism that has exposed a woefully underreported—yet surmountable—global health challenge, and has galvanized action by policymakers.

“By combining forces to create a new visual language for childhood malnutrition, we dispensed with the clichéd image of the emaciated child, instead focusing on the subtle, more hidden aspects of this relatively underreported condition,” said Jason Cone, communications director at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the US and co-executive producer of Starved for Attention. “The result is a unique form of collaborative reportage. We documented a crisis needlessly afflicting close to two hundred million children throughout the world, and by focusing on the gains already made in preventing and treating malnutrition at the field level, we emphasized solutions that have caught the attention of governments and aid agencies—exactly what we hoped to achieve.”

The documentary film series, totaling 56 minutes in length, was shot in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, India, Kenya, Mexico, Somalia, and the United States. To date, Starved for Attention has garnered media coverage in more than 25 countries, reaching both communities deeply affected by childhood malnutrition and those whose governments fund the global humanitarian food aid system.

Notable gains have been made since the launch of Starved for Attention. The documentary films were combined with grassroots and medical advocacy in the capitals of the world’s top food aid donor countries. The World Food Program, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and UNICEF have appropriately adjusted their malnutrition prevention and treatment guidelines.

And for the first time, the United States Congress is considering changes to the Farm Bill, the law that dictates what kind of food aid the US government sends overseas. The changes could potentially fast track the reformulation of US food aid to ensure that the nutritional needs of young children are met. The United States is the world’s largest food aid donor, and for decades has sent nutritionally substandard corn-soy blended flours to areas rife with malnutrition.

VII photographers Lynsey Addario, Marcus Bleasdale, Jessica Dimmock, Ron Haviv, Antonin Kratochvil, Franco Pagetti, Stephanie Sinclair, and John Stanmeyer produced the photos and much of the video for the project, with additional footage shot by MSF staff videographers. The films reveal the multi-layered facets of childhood malnutrition, chronicling the devastation of malnutrition for families in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Djibouti; the flaws of the largely US-funded humanitarian food aid system in Kenya and Somalia; innovative community-driven treatment programs in Bangladesh and India; and national-level malnutrition prevention programs in Mexico and the US.

“If Starved for Attention has achieved one thing, it is the exposure of a terribly harmful double standard,” said Cone. “For decades, the United States has shipped foods overseas that do not provide proper nutrition for young children to prevent or fight off malnutrition. These are foods you would never find in grocery stores in the US. There is strong momentum in Washington, in part as a result of this campaign, to make the necessary policy changes to end the double standard of US food aid.”

Starved for Attention is nominated in the documentaries sub-category in New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming. Most nominees in the category include traditional broadcast and Internet news outlets, such as ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, PBS, and

“This is an encouraging indication that non-conventional story telling, by non-conventional media producers and multi-disciplinary teams, are gaining the acceptance and recognition they deserve,” said Jeremiah Zagar, co-founder of Union HZ and creative director of the Starved for Attention films. “This collaboration shows it’s possible to achieve artistic and visual excellence without compromising the intellectual rigor needed to take on a complex subject like childhood malnutrition.”

Tens of thousands of people have viewed the documentaries at events and exhibits in the US, Canada, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, and Kenya.

Zagar and Jeremy Yaches, executive producer of Union HZ, a Brooklyn, New York–based filmmaking boutique, oversaw the post-production of the Starved for Attention films.

Bluecadet Interactive designed the Starved for Attention website, where all the films reside and which serves as the project’s primary advocacy platform, engaging and enlisting people throughout the world. More than 150,000 people signed a petition on the website encouraging reform of the international food aid system.

321 developed the Starved for Attentions ocial media campaign and platform that helped mobilize the MSF community and thousands of new members to be a part of the change to reform food aid.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in more than 70 countries. It was the recipient of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize.

VII Photo Agency was created in 2001 by seven of the world’s leading photojournalists. By 2005 it was listed in third position in American Photo’s “100 Most Important People in Photography.” VII Photo Agency now represents 23 of the world’s preeminent photojournalists, whose careers span 35 years of world history. 

Union HZ is a collective of filmmakers, documentarians & commercial storytellers who develop and produce original content for a global audience.

Bluecadet is an interactive studio specializing in multimedia experiences that excite, engage and inspire. Bluecadet designs and builds dynamic websites, interactive installations, and mobile applications for museums, nonprofits, artists and journalists. Bluecadet is a storyteller for the digital age. 

321 is an integrated brand agency that gives meaning and identity to ideas, products, and services by creating powerful brand experiences in all mediums from web to mobile to events-wherever the audience is. 321 creates experiences for diverse industries, from hospitality to non-profits and information technology and is helping companies move into the age of the networked brand by helping them create and recreate their brand with social in mind.

Rewriting the Story

October 16th, 2011

Thank you for helping to rewrite the story of malnutrition for 195 million children around the world. As one of the more than 138,000 people in 180 countries who signed the petition demanding that donor nations stop supplying nutritionally substandard food to malnourished children and children at risk of malnutrition in developing countries, you have already helped make a significant difference.

Today, on World Food Day, you can continue to help rewrite the story by donating your profile for 24 hours.

Press Release: Food Aid System Continues to Fail Malnourished Children

October 13th, 2011

While Young Victims of War and Famine Are Able to Access Latest Lifesaving, Nutritious Foods, Millions More Malnourished Children Still Receive Poor Quality Food Aid

Childhood Malnutrition – What’s Happening Now
Download Briefing Paper (PDF)

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 13, 2011 – Despite some recent gains in the fight against childhood malnutrition, the global food aid system—led by the United States—largely continues to provide substandard foods to millions of malnourished children every year, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced today, in advance of World Food Day on October 16.

Malnutrition—a preventable and treatable condition—afflicts an estimated 195 million children worldwide and is the underlying cause of at least one-third of the eight million annual deaths of children under five years of age, the vast majority of which occur in the developing world.

Children under the age of two are the most vulnerable to the consequences of malnutrition, and without access to nutrient-dense foods necessary for growth and development, such as highly effective ready-to-use supplementary foods now available, they will suffer debilitating lifelong consequences.

“It’s been proven beyond any doubt that getting nutritionally appropriate foods to young, vulnerable children saves their lives, yet the global food aid system has not fully caught up with the revolutionary gains made in nutrition science,” said Dr. Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president.

The bulk of international food aid shipments, including those sent to countries with a high burden of malnutrition, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa, are comprised of corn-soy blend (CSB) fortified flours, which do not include the vital nutrients and proteins growing children require. The United States alone annually ships approximately 130,000 metric tons of sub-standard CSB—grown and processed on American farms—to the developing world.

While initiatives led by the US government, such as the “1,000 days” campaign or “Scaling Up Nutrition” (SUN), bring together countries featuring high levels of malnutrition with major international food donors—demonstrating that there is a scientific and political consensus on the need to focus on children under two—most food aid today does not provide appropriate nutrition to young children.

“The catalog of products available for food aid grossly neglects the needs of the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Karunakara. “There’s no excuse for waiting anymore; the world’s major food aid donor countries need to finally get on board.”

MSF today sent letters to representatives of the top food aid donor countries, including the US, European Union member states, Canada, and Brazil. The letters were sent on behalf of more than 133,000 individuals from over 180 countries who signed a petition, demanding that donor nations “stop supplying nutritionally substandard food to malnourished children and children at risk of malnutrition in developing countries.”

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, MSF-USA Executive Director Sophie Delaunay urged the US government to apply the same nutrition standards to the food it sends overseas as it does through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which ensures that low-income American families have access to quality, nutritious foods.

“As the world’s largest food aid donor, the policies and practices of the U.S. are enormously influential in assuring that the right foods reach the right people at the right time,” the letter said.

Some key food aid players have begun to change. The World Food Program, for example, now uses supplementary foods that meet the nutritional needs of children under two as the cornerstone of its interventions in medical emergencies. Such products played a key role in 2010 in response to the nutritional crisis that struck Niger, the floods in Pakistan, and the earthquake in Haiti. And donor nations and aid agencies have improved the quality of foods sent to Somalia and Kenya in response to current nutrition crises there.

Yet the vast majority of malnourished children, who are not caught up in attention-grabbing emergencies, continue to receive products from major international food aid donors that do not meet their specific nutritional needs.

“High profile emergencies, such as those in Somalia and Kenya today, represent just the tip of the malnutrition iceberg,” said Dr. Karunakara. “Most malnourished children are invisible, and they should not have to become victims of war or natural catastrophes in order to have access to the foods they need.”

In late 2008, an expert meeting convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) considered the growing body of scientific evidence and concluded that nutritional standards of food aid needed to be improved. But three years later, the WHO, which most Ministries of Health in developing countries rely on for policy guidance, has yet to issue formal guidelines to ensure the improvement of food for malnourished or young children.

“Guidance from the WHO is crucial to encourage donor countries to adopt better standards for food aid and recipient countries to adopt better measures to ensure their children have access to quality nutrition,” said Dr. Karunakara.

“Children cannot afford the delays caused by having to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of these new specialized foods with every single government from one crisis to the next,” he said. “This only serves to delay the initiation of lifesaving programs.”

In June 2010, MSF and the VII Photo agency launched “Starved for Attention,” a multimedia campaign exposing the neglected and largely invisible crisis of childhood malnutrition. VII photojournalists traveled to malnutrition “hotspots” around the world—from war zones to emerging economies—to shed light on the underlying causes of the malnutrition crisis and innovative approaches to combat this condition, producing eight documentaries, which can be viewed at

In 2010, MSF admitted more than 300,000 malnourished patients to feeding centers at 139 projects in 28 countries.

Starved for Attention Exhibition

October 7th, 2011

The Starved for Attention exhibit tours the East Coast, recreating a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) field hospital specializing in the treatment of malnourished children, just like those used in the field. MSF medical staff and aid workers—who have worked in malnutrition projects in the field—will guide visitors through a simulated clinic and describe how MSF works to treat and prevent malnutrition.

NY1 Spotlights Starved for Attention Exhibit

September 26th, 2011

On Friday, NY1 featured three clips on the Starved for Attention interactive exhibit. The exhibit drew more than 2,000 visitors during its run in New York, and will be heading to Philadelphia later this week, followed by Baltimore and Washington DC. Watch the NY1 clips, including interviews with exhibit guides here.

“Everyday we are not utilizing these life-saving products is basically a failure on our part as humans.” – Dr. Leo Ho, Medical Coordinator

Infographic: Malnutrition Worldwide

September 16th, 2011

MSF Fights the Nutritional Double Standard at Food Aid Policy Conference

August 26th, 2011
Reactions from the MSF aid workers and staff who participated in the Kansas City meetings:

Last month, policymakers and representatives from various organizations involved in the international food aid system gathered in Kansas City, Missouri to assess current U.S. food aid policy

Several MSF aid workers and staff, including a pediatrician and a nutritionist who both recently treated malnourished children in MSF field clinics, attended the conference to give voice to the Starved for Attention campaign and promote the improvement of food aid quality.  As Dr. Susan Shepherd recently wrote in an opinion piece in the Kansas City Star,  “Investments in child health and nutrition programs should be based on what children need, no matter where they live.”

While some incremental progress was achieved with the release of a report by Tufts University experts calling for higher levels of key nutrients in corn-soy blend, a food aid staple, the MSF team reports that quicker and more significant changes are still needed to treat the millions of malnourished children around the world.

Dr Susan Shepherd Responds to Nick Kristof’s Editorial, ‘The Breast Milk Cure’

July 6th, 2011

Breast-Feeding in Niger

To the Editor:

Forgive my skepticism at Nicholas D. Kristof’s pronouncement that breast-feeding is the cheap miracle cure for malnutrition and child mortality in Niger (“The Breast Milk Cure,” column, June 23).

Exclusive breast-feeding during a child’s first six months of life is not cheap anywhere. Decisions must be made by women about how to allocate time to earn money to feed the family, tend the fields or nurse a new baby.

As a pediatrician with Doctors Without Borders, I have met plenty of mothers in Niger. They walk for miles or work fields under a broiling desert sky carrying their babies on their backs. When a woman is parched, she suspects that her baby is, too — so she gives the baby some water. Breast milk is the best food for babies, but focusing only on exclusive breast-feeding masks the collective failure to provide safe water.

The severe malnutrition Mr. Kristof describes is far more prevalent in 1-year-old Niger infants — an age when breast milk must be complemented with animal-sourced foods to provide infants the nutritional value they need. The meager plant-based foods typical in the Niger diet are as much a contributor to early childhood deaths as poor water and malaria.

I have seen how combinations of better diagnosis and treatment of malaria, immunization and nutrition supplementation with good-quality foods for 6-to-24-month-olds are saving lives. The only reason these programs work is that mothers are willing partners.

New York, June 29, 2011

Empty Calories and Promises

June 27th, 2011

The US Standard and A Double Standard
The access to nutritious, enriching foods that the U.S. government provides to young American children is a stark contrast to the nutritionally devoid blend of fortified flour sent to malnourished children outside the country.

Press Release: Child Mortality Observed 50% Lower With Better Food

The following op-ed by Dr. Susan Shepherd, MSF child nutrition adviser, was printed in the Kansas City Star today in light of the 2011 International Food Aid & Development Conference happening this week in Kansas City.

Finding the right recipe of diet and exercise to keep children healthy is never easy for a nation. Within a generation, we have gone from “Hunger in America,” the landmark 1968 report on the millions of American children suffering from severe malnutrition, to “Let’s Move,” the new initiative to improve nutrition and reduce childhood obesity.

One consistent bright spot, however, has been the Women, Infants and Children’s program (WIC) that emerged in the early 1970s. Through WIC, low-income families are given the means to improve children’s and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers’ diets. In the first two years of life, children are growing and learning at breakneck speed — and there’s a crucial 18-month window to make a lifelong difference. From 6 months onward, children need a range of nutritious foods that provide the right mix of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals essential to health, growth and development. WIC assures access to these costly, healthy foods: milk, eggs, baby foods, fortified cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables.

This program has helped wipe out childhood malnutrition in America.

It’s time the U.S. government applied the same nutrition standards to the foods it sends overseas to children in need. In Kansas City this week, U.S. and international policymakers, health care professionals, aid practitioners and advocates will discuss ways to improve the quality of the foods provided to the developing world.

Every year the U.S. sends more than 100,000 tons of fortified corn-soy bean flour to nutrition programs, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. These flours, grown on American farms and processed in American factories, are used as porridge to feed malnourished children. Tragically, they do not meet the nutritional requirements of these children.

Fortified corn-soy porridge is seen as emergency food aid, as if it’s intended just to tide children over for a short time until things improve. But a recent Government Accountability Office report reveals that more than half of this food actually goes to some countries year after year like an international WIC program. A young child in Ethiopia has the same nutritional needs as a child in Kansas City, and they need more than corn and soy beans, they need animal-sourced foods like milk.

Unfortunately, new recommendations in a USAID-commissioned Food Aid Quality Review still fall short of what young children need. WIC provides at least a third of an infant’s daily calories as milk, eggs or meats; the Quality Review adds a meager offering of 2 percent of energy from milk to the food it intends for malnourished children living in the most food-insecure regions of the world. The other 98 percent is corn, soy and vegetable oil.

Last year in Niger, an impoverished sub-Saharan nation, Doctors Without Borders distributed a milk-based paste fortified with vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients to 150,000 young children between 6 months and 2 years, as part of a program providing medical care for common childhood illnesses, including malaria.

We monitored closely, and observed that deaths among those children receiving the milk-based supplement were reduced by half compared with those who did not receive it.

The USAID quality review recommends the inclusion of these “baby foods” but because they cost more humanitarian aid agencies will likely continue to rely on the less appropriate corn-soy flours.

Investments in child health and nutrition programs should be based on what children need, no matter where they live.

Susan Shepherd of Butte, Mont., is a pediatrician. She has worked for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders for the last four years and coordinates work in nutrition. She has worked in Uganda, Chad, Niger and Ghana.

We Still Need Your Help to Rewrite the Story of Malnutrition

June 23rd, 2011

Over the past year, MSF has met with government officials from the top food aid donor countries and held photographic exhibitions and events in over a dozen countries in an international effort to rewrite the story of malnutrition.

Sign the “Starved for Attention” petition before June 27 to play an invaluable role in keeping the pressure on the top food aid governments to improve the nutritional quality of foods sent to feed malnourished children overseas.

On June 27 in Kansas City at the International Food Aid & Development Conference, the US government will announce reforms to its international food aid policy. This will be the first time the foods used in this decades-old, billion-dollar program will be significantly retooled.

Every year the US sends over a hundred thousand tons of fortified corn-soy bean flour to be used to make porridge to feed malnourished children, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Tragically, these flours, grown on American farms and processed in American factories, do not meet the nutritional requirements of these young, growing children.  Thus, the US sends inadequate food overseas to vulnerable children that it would not use in its domestic nutrition programs.

Unfortunately, the proposed food aid reforms being announced in Kansas City still fall far short of the highly successful nutritional standards employed in the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) program that has helped wipe out childhood malnutrition in America. It’s time to end the double standard of US food aid.

We need your help to push the US government to ensure that the food sent to these vulnerable children actually meets their nutritional needs to grow and thrive.

Thank you for your support.