The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced plans Thursday to spend $922 million over the next five years to address global malnutrition and hunger as foreign aid is decreasing at a time when malnutrition rates are rising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Gates Foundation’s largest financial commitment to nutrition, announced during the inaugural United Nations Food Systems Summit held in New York this week, will advance food, health and social protection efforts to reach women and children who are most vulnerable to malnutrition, according to a statement from the Seattle-based foundation.

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“While malnutrition accounts for nearly half of all child deaths, it still receives less than one percent of foreign aid — a trend that must change,” Bill Gates, co-chairperson of the Gates Foundation, said in the statement.

Economic downturns in 2020, exacerbated by the pandemic, led to increases in world hunger as more people found it difficult to afford healthful diets, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Between 720 million and 811 million people faced hunger in 2020, and the number of undernourished individuals was more than five times greater in 2020 than it was at any point within the last two decades.

Nearly half of the deaths of children under 5 around the globe were a result of undernutrition, which leaves children at higher risk of dying from common infections, according to a UNICEF 2021 data report.

The foundation will focus investments into four key strategies aimed at curbing malnutrition, including research into fortifying common foods such as salt, flour and cooking oil with vitamins and minerals, as well maternal nutrition to address maternal, newborn and infant mortality rates resulting from poor nutrition.


Efforts also will focus on program designs to increase access to nutritious, affordable diets and research into new solutions prioritizing maternal health and the nutrition of growing children, the foundation said.

“Nutrition is fundamental to better health, and to an equitable COVID recovery. Yet both malnutrition rates and aid levels are moving in the wrong direction,” Melinda French Gates, co-chairperson of the Gates Foundation, said in a statement.

The funding, she said, will help people around the world get the nutrition they need to live healthy lives, and serve as an invitation for others to invest in the issue.

An additional 283,000 children under the age of 5 living in low- and middle-income countries will die from malnutrition within the next three years without any immediate action as a result of economic, food and health system issues heightened by COVID-19, according to recent modeling of data from a peer-reviewed article published in the Nature Food journal.

“With just nine years left to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, good nutrition is a driver of every global goal,” Chris Elias, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Delivery Division, said in a statement.

A coalition of nine foundations pledged on Wednesday as world leaders are meeting for the annual United Nations General Assembly to spend a collective $5 billion by 2030 to protect at least 30% of the Earth’s land and sea. 

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Among them is Jeff Bezos, who announced on Monday he will commit $1 billion on conservation efforts in the Congo Basin, the tropical Andes and the tropical Pacific Ocean. The Amazon founder said the Bezos Earth Fund will spend $10 billion by 2030 to address climate change following criticisms about his company’s carbon footprint.

The initiative by the philanthropies supports the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which consist of 17 goals including reducing inequalities, industry innovation, protecting the environment and eliminating hunger and poverty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.