Saturday, November 25, 2017

Increase domestic investment in nutrition: SUN coordinator to Bangladesh

  • Nurul Islam Hasib,
    Published: 2017-04-03 19:27:34 BdST


The global coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement has called upon the government to increase domestic investment in nutrition “step by step” as Bangladesh heads towards becoming a middle-income country.

Gerda Verburg also praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership in the nutrition sector in an interview with and said they were looking forward to her “role” in engaging all relevant stakeholders in the “multi-sectoral approach” of combating malnutrition.

Bangladesh was one of the first members of the SUN Movement when it was launched in 2010. It unites people — from governments, civil society, the United Nations, donors, businesses and researchers — in a collective effort to improve nutrition.

Verburg is visiting Bangladesh now, the first time in her current position. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appointed her last year. Her visit also coincides with the ongoing Inter-Parliamentary Union conference where she is a key-note speaker.

“Good nutrition is the foundation for development,” she said.

“Bangladesh has ambitions of becoming a middle-income country…The economy is growing at 7 percent, so more domestic resources need to be invested in nutrition to ensure people can lead healthy lives.

"As people’s nutrition improves, health care costs are driven down and human productivity increases. It’s worthwhile investment because it is an investment in the sustainability of the entire country.”

There is no available figure to show the government’s current spending on nutrition since nutrition is the work of 15 ministries.

But the health ministry, which leads the sector and which works on nutritional specific issues such as Vitamin A capsule feeding and de-worming campaigns, has around Tk 7,500 million budgets for the National Nutrition Services. International donors also support different projects.

The SUN movement pushes for proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life which is from a woman's pregnancy and to her child's second birthday. Evidence shows that poor nutrition during this period leads to irreversible consequences such as stunted growth and impaired cognitive development.

So far, 59 countries and three Indian states – Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh – are the members of this Movement. Within the SUN Movement, national leaders prioritise their efforts to address malnutrition.

Verburg said Hasina had shown “great leadership” when she became one of the first members of this Movement.

“She has proven her leadership,” she said, crediting the Prime Minister’s role in helping to reduce the stunted growth of children in Bangladesh since the launching of the Movement.

Stunting of the under-five children has been reduced to 36 percent in the latest Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey released in 2015. It was over 41 percent when the SUN movement was launched.

Verburg met the prime minister on Sunday.

“She has played an important role for the country, and we look forward to her leadership in the newly revitalised Bangladesh National Nutrition Council (BNNC),” Verburg, who served as Chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) before her new assignment, said.

She also served as Permanent Representative of Netherlands to the UN Organisations for Food and Agriculture in Rome (FAO, WFP and IFAD) and chaired the Global Agenda Council for Food and Nutrition Security of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2014.

Multi-pronged approach

Verburg said apart from investing from the national budget, establishing real collaboration between different sectors and different stakeholders, overcoming cultural behaviour and ensuring equal rights for all men and women are the challenges that the government faces in combating malnutrition.

“If nutrition for people is taken care of better from the very beginning, productivity would be higher in the workplace,” she said. “GDP will increase at least 3 percent if you improve nutrition countrywide and optimists say it can even go up unto 11 percent”.

“Nutrition is, by its very nature, a multi-sectoral issue and no one ministry can address it alone. It requires collaboration between health, agriculture, food, water and sanitation, education and women’s empowerment sectors, and many others. To tackle the root causes of malnutrition, we must consider access to healthcare, diversity of foods, clean water and the position of women as leaders in their families and communities.”

She also encouraged collaboration with the private sector and to avoid any conflict of interest or violations of law, she advised the government -- “don’t ask the private sector what they want from the government. Tell them what you want from them and work to ensure ethical and sustainable investment in nutrition”.

“Ask them to show real leadership, for example, good nutrition practices for employees and provide breastfeeding corners for female employees,” she said.

She said improving economic growth would not automatically improve nutrition.

“Rice is very good staple food if you combine it with vegetables, fruits and make sure that you have got enough proteins. So its education, behaviour change and sometimes it’s a culture matter that needs to be overcome”.

The SUN Movement at the beginning was focused on bringing partners from the government, civil society, United Nations, businesses and academia together. Now it is focused on implementation, creating results, and bringing those results to the table so many countries  “can share lessons and inspire all member countries of the SUN Movements to learn from each other”.

“We are also now focusing much more on the double burden of malnutrition,” she said, explaining that some people suffer from stunted growth at the beginning of life and then become obese in their later years perpetuating the likelihood of diabetes and many non-communicable diseases.

“What we now try to do is to get countries who have successfully prevented obesity, such as Norway, to be involved with the SUN Movement so that they can share their experiences in preventing and fighting obesity and related diseases with other countries who are struggling with this emerging challenge”.

She said they would also take Bangladesh’s experiences of reducing malnutrition and some progress about maternity leave protection as well as breastfeeding promotion to some other countries of the SUN Movement.

The SUN Movement would also support the implementation of the second National Plan of Action from 2016 to 2025 in Bangladesh, she said.

But she stressed: “We should never overlook the importance of first 1000 days from pregnancy until the second year of the baby’s life. By guaranteeing good nutrition during this window of opportunity, we can then guarantee children will reach their full mental and physical potential. I made a strong plea at the 136th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly to also invest in the nutrition of adolescent girls”.