Exciting updates on global nutrition policy, funding

July 22, 2022
by Dorothy Monza, Senior Associate, Nutrition & Child Health

This week there has been exciting progress on our global nutrition priorities.

On Thursday the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations committee (SFRC). This means it is one step closer to becoming law. Now, it’s up to leadership—Senators Schumer and McConnell—to take up and pass this bill through the full Senate under unanimous consent.

Unanimous consent is a process the Senate can use to speed up the passage of bills that have broad bipartisan support. We believe the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act is a strong candidate to be passed through this procedure for several reasons.

  • Firstly, the bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support—including over 100 cosponsors from both parties.
  • Secondly, the Senate has chosen to advance the House legislation text through the committee. This means that rather than considering S.2956—which had different language and wording—the Senate is moving to pass H.R.4693 exactly as the House did.
  • Lastly, the bill passed through SFRC with no opposition. This means that leaders in foreign policy from both parties have demonstrated support for this bill. That’s key because if even one senator objects to unanimous consent, it holds up the process. But our work to build robust bipartisan support for this lifesaving legislation has put us in a good position for unanimous consent.

Our advocacy, beginning in the fall of 2021, has put us in a strong position. But we still need to hold the Senate accountable to getting this bill over the finish line and enacted into law.

New funding commitments to treat malnourished kids

This week the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power made a historic announcement. She revealed USAID will give $200 million to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to purchase and distribute ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF). RUTF is a lifesaving nutrition product to treat wasting, a form of severe acute malnutrition. This funding will allow UNICEF to treat 2.4 million additional children. This is the largest single increase in coverage on record—and the largest single investment in wasting treatment coverage ever.

This commitment from USAID could not come at a more crucial time. Wasting is the deadliest form of malnutrition, and unfortunately rates have been increasing due to disruptions in health services from the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic crises caused by climate change and conflict. The already fragile situation for millions of people in low-income countries has been further exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, which has destabilized the global food system and caused prices to skyrocket to the highest levels on modern record.

RESULTS advocacy has played an important role in this new commitment. In the spring we urged Congress to pass an emergency supplemental funding package that included $5 billion for global food and nutrition assistance and $5 billion for global COVID-19 vaccination. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 funding was dropped from the final package, but we were able to secure nearly $5 billion for emergency food and nutrition assistance for communities facing severe hardship due to the war in Ukraine—including countries that have historically imported wheat, sunflower oil, and other staples from Ukraine or the Russian Federation. We have also been continuously advocating with champions in Congress and staff at USAID to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable—including women and girls, pregnant people, and young children under five—in their response.

We know that even a short duration of malnutrition during pregnancy or in the first years of life can lead to lifelong disability or death. Even when supplies reach marginalized communities, wheat is not enough to save a severely malnourished child. They need specialized therapeutic foods that will help them regain strength and crucial micronutrients—as well as calories—without sending their fragile bodies into shock. That is where RUTF comes in.

Exciting news – but more must be done

If we want to galvanize support for ending preventable maternal and child deaths and ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030, the world must come together and reaffirm our commitment to these goals. The U.S. is a global leader in this area, but our allies also need to come to the table. It’s inspiring that USAID committed not only to spending $200 million for RUTF, but also leveraging that investment to mobilize $250 million in additional funding for RUTF from other donors by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2022.

These announcements also reflect the dual pronged nature of our nutrition work. Institutional change and emergency response are both needed to weather this global crisis and build resilience for the future.

  • First, to save lives and avert catastrophe, we must work to meet immediate needs in communities facing high levels of malnutrition. In Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya alone, 1.7 million children are on the brink of death right now and require lifesaving support. If the rains fail again, that number is expected to rise to 2 million. But we also know that the drivers of malnutrition, including conflict and climate shocks, are becoming more frequent and more severe.
  • The Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act was not written to address the immediate humanitarian crises playing out in the Horn of Africa, Yemen, and other malnutrition hotspots. But it is a reform bill that will equip USAID with the tools it needs to achieve greater impact from their nutrition programs, enhance coordination, and scale up evidence-based interventions for the most marginalized communities moving forward.

Make no mistake, we are in a global emergency. But emergency response is not enough. The 2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report grimly states:

“This year’s report should dispel any lingering doubts that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition in all its forms. We are now only 8 years away from 2030, the SDG target year. The distance to reach many of the SDG2 targets is growing wider each year, while the time to 2030 is narrowing.”

We must work to meet urgent needs right now, while also working on institutional reforms that will strengthen our ability to prevent and treat malnutrition through this crisis and beyond.

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