Fighting malnutrition, 50 countries say they'll make good nutrition a priority

Fifty governments and other stakeholders have promised to focus on good nutrition, especially for maternal, newborn, and child health. It is part of a movement called the Movement for Scaling Up Nutrition. 

Andreea Campeanu/Reuters/File
Mothers displaced by the fighting hold their malnourished babies in front of a nutrition centre ran by CARE at the U.N. base in Bentiu, Unity State, June 18, 2014. South Sudan is one of the countries participating in the Scaling Up Nutrition movement

In 2008, an international medical journal (the Lancet) released a series of research papers on maternal and child nutrition. At that time the journal’s editor wrote, “nutrition is a desperately neglected aspect of maternal, newborn, and child health. The reasons are understandable, but not justifiable and the international nutrition system is broken. Leadership is absent, resources are too few, capacity is fragile, and emergency response systems are fragmentary. New governance arrangements are urgently needed.”   

At that time the importance of nutrition as a key driver of development was not widely understood, or acknowledged; it was lost amongst the many competing issues straining to attract political attention and financial support. An article about the importance of malnutrition in human and economic development would have started by making the case for investments in nutrition. Not anymore.

Governments of countries where people are handicapped by malnutrition are taking the lead and are rebuilding the international nutrition system so that it is fit-for-purpose. In June 2013, the Nutrition for Growth conference in London drew on this new energy and saw unprecedented political and financial commitments.  

Since 2010, the Movement for Scaling Up Nutrition (the SUN Movement) has focused – particularly - on the importance of good nutrition in the 1,000 days between the start of pregnancy and the second year of life. The Movement is now made up of 50 governments who have committed, at the highest political levels, to scaling up nutrition in their countries. Other stakeholders, who have organized themselves into four networks of civil society, donors, business and the United Nations system, support the SUN Movement countries.

During the last four years, SUN countries have shaped the Movement in line with six lessons:  

Tackle malnutrition in all its forms

Each country’s malnutrition situation includes a combination of under-nutrition and diet-related disorders (obesity and non-communicable diseases). The response is adapted to the national situation and to national institutional arrangements. Over the last four years, SUN countries are increasing adopting approaches that – while based on their individual experiences – also reflect the collective expertise of the Movement as a whole.  

Make sure that countries are in the lead

Government leaders of countries that commit to placing nutrition at the center of their development agenda are in the best position to lead and coordinate efforts to improve the nutrition of their people.

Adopt multi-sectoral approaches for good nutrition

The only way to address effectively the complex and underlying causes of malnutrition is through multi-sectoral approaches that include agriculture & food systems, water, sanitation & hygiene, education, employment & social protection, health care and support for resilience.

Ensure that the efforts of different stakeholders are combined and aligned

All those who share the aim of improving nutrition have a role to play. While different groups have different interests, each has resources and expertise, which combined in support of government-led plans, have the potential to deliver the greatest impact. Particular attention must be paid to the interests of people and societies most at risk of malnutrition: their voices must be heard, and actions should respond to their needs.

People’s rights and equity are at the core: realizing rights is the priority

Sustainable results are only possible when people are empowered – especially women and vulnerable groups – to be able to realise their right to food, and to be in a position to take responsibility for ensuring good nutrition for themselves and their dependents.

Once they have been achieved, results must be validated and demonstrated

The endorsement of a sound monitoring and evaluation framework is critical for strengthening information systems that allow for transparent assessment of impact, progress and for ensuring that all groups are mutually accountable for their actions.

The SUN Movement Strategy supports national governments’ efforts to transform ways of working and provide a context within which different sectors of government agree on optimal policies, well-developed plans and efficient systems for implementation. This becomes the enabling environment for effective action, always geared to support for government policies, by a broad range of stakeholders who align their actions behind a single set of expected results. The enabling environment acts as a springboard for scaled-up implementation and measurable benefits for people’s nutrition. It involves four processes:

  1. Bringing people together to work effectively through functioning multi-sector and multi-stakeholder platforms.
  2. Putting policies and laws in place to establish a coherent policy and legal framework.
  3. Implementing and aligning the programs within different sectors, with common objectives and an agreed framework for results.
  4. Mobilizing resources from domestic sources supplemented by external assistance.

As countries prepare for the International Conference of Nutrition (ICN) in Rome, during November 2014, they no longer need to argue the case for nutrition. National leaders are well able to make the case. The outcome of the conference will be important. It will reflect governments’ ambitions, commitments and plans for advancing nutrition. Between now and November 2014, Government representatives will negotiate a clear political statement (the “Rome Declaration”) and a Framework for Action that will be meaningful in coming years. It will include the policies, institutional arrangements, investment priorities and monitoring mechanisms being put in place by national governments at both local and national levels.  

In the Framework for Action, Governments will set out ways in which different actors are already working together to implement multi-sectoral strategies that contribute to people’s good nutrition. Within ICN2 they will reflect on the global context of international nutrition standards and agreements. They will focus on challenges – like the promotion of exclusive breast-feeding among children aged less than six months. They will stress the importance of national and local governance that involves communities most at risk, enables their voices to be heard, and incorporates transparent systems for accountability. The inter-governmental agreement will reflect the extraordinary progress of the last five years. The international nutrition system will have caught up with the massive progress being made by countries.

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