SUN calls for collaborative approach to undernutrition
Last week I had the opportunity to attend Bread for the World’s Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling up Nutrition Conference that brought together global nutrition leaders and U.S. activists alike in efforts to prevent malnutrition for mothers and children especially during the critical 1,000-day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. RESULTS and several other allies cosponsored the event.
Leaders from SUN countries, which are countries that have signed on to the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, participated in panel discussions about the successes and struggles they encountered through the implementation of nutrition sensitive programs. The event had tremendous developing country representation from countries that have had success with Scaling Up Nutrition including Tanzania, Kenya, India, and Guatemala. With remarks by the head of USAID, Rajiv Shah, and the Irish Minister of Trade, Joe Costello, it was an electrifying, inspiring discussion on the future commitments towards ending child and maternal under nutrition.
Dr. Robert Black, a leading child health expert from Johns Hopkins University, summarized release of The Lancet series on child nutrition that found the number of child deaths attributed to undernutrition is actually higher than previously reported. Of the 6.9 million children who die every year from preventable and treatable disease, malnutrition is underlying cause in almost half of the deaths.
The Lancet also showed that while stunting rates in children are declining, the current rate is not fast enough to reach the World Health Assembly target of decreasing stunting by 40 percent by the year 2025. The paper also emphasized the importance of nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life as imperative to mitigate stunting, cognitive deficits, and increased mortality. The cost benefit of nutrition interventions at the stage is enormous in both the short term in saving lives, and in the long term for a country’s economic growth.
During another session on the impact of undernutrition on communities, Rose Ndolo, the Nutrition Coordinator for World Vision Kenya, highlighted the problem of fragmented and conflict countries, which have 50 percent greater amounts of stunting and wasting. Globally forty-two countries are listed as fragile and conflicted states but very few being members of the SUN movement. Ndolo called for the global community to target these countries to ensure that they prioritize nutrition during the first 1,000 days. She gave solid examples of how that Kenya with support from the private sector is seeing progress fighting under nutrition but called on the federal government to take a greater lead. Ndolo added that national governments cannot do it by themselves. They need local village leaders engaged to further child and maternal health on a community level.
My takeaways from the conference were first, to fight undernutrition there must be nutrition specific goals and actions across sectors — health, agriculture and food security, women’s empowerment, and schooling — all areas are essential in the efforts to curb undernutrition in mothers and children. And second, a collective, political approach is necessary. We must combine resources of government, civil society, and the private sector to create an enabling environment for nutrition. Now is the critical time to increase nutrition efforts to give each child an equal opportunity at life.
Throughout the conference, there was overwhelming agreement on the need for effective governmental support for scaling up nutrition efforts. It is the partnership between NGOs, local governments, and the global community that will result in the biggest improvement of malnutrition efforts during this 1,000-day window. There is an urgent need to educate legislators and political leaders on this issue. With the help of the global community and governmental leaders, the eradication of hunger and undernutrition is attainable in this lifetime.