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New Hope for Malnourished Mothers and Children
The Administration continues to refine its Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative. The announcement at the G8 and subsequent emphasis on agriculture and food security is exciting and a welcome return to investing in areas that are critical to help people escape from poverty.
Bread for the World is urging the administration to include nutrition as a core area of emphasis in the new Initiative. The initial consultation document includes a substantial focus on nutrition, but as with all first drafts, it needs refinement. A recent briefing paper from the Institute, New Hope for Malnourished Mothers and Children, outlines further recommendations for the new initiative. Our recommendations include:
Focus on what works: Evidence-based interventions should be scaled up in all countries where malnutrition persists. Delivery strategies for these interventions need to be designed to meet country conditions. Scaling up these key interventions in the 36 countries where 90 percent of stunted children live could reduce deaths of children under age two by nearly 25 percent.
Invest resources to bring interventions to scale: Bringing interventions to scale will require substantial new investments since the resources dedicated to nutrition are currently small. Funding for direct nutrition interventions must be increased. The announcement of substantial new commitments for agriculture and food security, made at the G-8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, in June 2009, presents an important opportunity to increase spending on key nutrition programs.
Link investments in agriculture and food security with nutrition: Recent commitments to increase agricultural productivity are important. The ultimate goal of this effort should be improved food security and nutrition. Increasing agricultural productivity will mean little if it does not lead to improved nutrition for the millions of children around the world who cannot get enough calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals for healthy growth and development.
Use improvements in maternal and child nutrition as a key indicator of progress: Addressing the immediate causes and consequences of malnutrition must be made part of broader efforts to tackle the underlying factors that allow malnutrition to persist. Given the complex links among health, environment, social protection, education, agriculture, and nutrition, the nutritional status of mothers and children is an excellent indicator for measuring progress or lack of progress in development efforts. The weight and height of children under five years old are widely accepted, standardized, and powerful measures of nutrition impact.
Coordinate action around country-led strategies: Many countries are designing comprehensive food and nutrition security plans to guide investments and interventions. Developing countries should be supported in their efforts to design national strategies with assurance that international donors will provide sustained support. These strategies should base action on evidence and include space and flexibility to adjust policies and program designs based on new information gained from research and experimentation. For their part, international donors, the United States included, must coordinate their aid activities to ensure that long-term and appropriate aid resources are available.
Build capacity and consensus for action: Improving the technical and institutional capacity of national governments will ensure that countries have the information and ability needed. Without trained professionals to design and implement nutrition interventions, programs will not be sustainable. A network of experts can also help communicate best practices and success stories in nutrition and contribute to building a policy framework at the national and international levels. Assisting in the design of training curricula, supporting postsecondary educational opportunities, and facilitating international cooperation and communication among nutrition experts is critical to building capacity and achieving greater consistency among efforts to improve nutrition.
Ensure coherence across development activities and other developed country policies: There are many U.S. policies outside development that can impact nutrition. Trade and agriculture policies that hurt smallholder farmers in developing countries, for example, can increase or perpetuate poverty. Intellectual property rights that restrict access to needed technologies can make it more difficult to pursue key health interventions. The United States must take a “whole of government” approach to its global nutrition, food security, and agriculture development objectives.
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