The global rise in food prices threatens to reverse gains made in children's health in Africa, where mortality rates have been falling even in the poorest countries, UNICEF warned Wednesday.
"Africa has a large proportion of children who are undernourished, which could be exacerbated by the global increase in food prices," UNICEF chief Ann Veneman told reporters at an African development summit in Yokohama, Japan.
The food crisis has "increased the risk of malnutrition and has the potential of reversing important health gains," she said.
UNICEF, or the United Nations Children's Fund, released a report saying that four of the world's poorest nations -- Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique -- saw mortality rates for children under five fall by 40 percent or more since 1990.
Deaths from measles in sub-Saharan Africa fell 91 percent in 2000-2006 while access to antiretroviral treatment for HIV-positive mothers and children increased and at lower costs, the study said.
"The report shows that rapid reduction in child mortality is possible through sound strategies, adequate resources, political commitment and broad collaboration," Veneman said.
However, the report said that sub-Saharan Africa remained the "most difficult place in the world for a child to survive."
"We are very concerned, especially about children who are aged two and under, getting adequate nutrition because it is this age that is the formative years for a child," Veneman said.
"It's important that children get nutrition so as not to have their learning abilities lessened, or their ability to earn a living later in life," she added.
Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, with experts blaming factors such as rising oil prices and the growing use of biofuels.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf warned that her country, which is struggling to emerge from decades of civil war, could see a drop in school enrolment.
"Rising prices in food are having a direct impact in Liberia," she said.
The "lunch programme is now in danger. Unless we can find a means to mobilise the resources to keep that programme going and expand it, we'll find that there could be some sharp reversals in the enrollment rate that we have been able to get."