By Ellen Piwoz
Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
With less than two years until the end of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the health and development communities are looking back at what has been accomplished, and looking ahead to where we have opportunities to do more. After recently reflecting on lessons learned through our work in 2012, I had an opportunity join a global group of technical experts, political leaders, donors and advocates working to continue positive trends in an area with the potential to strengthen many aspects of the MDGs—nutrition.
An investment in nutrition can improve the growth of children, nations and economies. Good nutrition, especially in during the 1,000 days of a mother’s pregnancy until her child turns two, gives children a healthy start at life. In addition to being healthier, children who are better nourished early in life achieve more in school and earn more as adults—helping to raise themselves and their communities out of poverty.
The International Conference Against Child Undernutrition, convened in Paris by UNICEF, in partnership with French government agencies, Medicine Sans Frontieres, Action Against Hunger and Alima, focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, a region long plagued with challenges to food and nutrition security.
What I saw in this meeting was a reflection of how far the global community has come on nutrition. We’ve moved beyond focusing solely on challenges and have learned what needs to be done. As a result, a theme of opportunity was seen throughout the conference, along with a sense of momentum translating into action.
Leaders from across Africa discussed how they are prioritizing nutrition and accelerating progress. This national leadership and commitment are at the heart of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement—a global effort dedicated to alleviating malnutrition. The SUN Movement is about the leadership of the 35 committed SUN countries and the work that civil society, UN agencies, business, foundations and others are doing to align behind national goals.
The Paris meeting and the recent busy schedule of global nutrition events is a manifestation of what the SUN Movement is about—people and organizations coming together, across sectors, to not just talk about problems, but to engage in real dialogue to implement solutions. More than ever before, we are seeing what can be done when we all work together and understanding what needs to be done in each sector, each country, each area of focus to contribute to this shared success.
During the meeting, what struck me is not that national government representatives attended—it was who those officials were—ministers of finance, ministers of planning, of agriculture and parliamentarians. They represented areas of focus where, just a few years ago, leaders would not have considered nutrition their issue, let alone ranked it as a high priority. Here though, the national leadership was clear. One example of government commitment came from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the announcement that revenue from the new tax on financial transactions will be used to support child health in the Sahel region—with an emphasis on nutrition. This is a critical investment to help with the crisis today and to help strengthen resilience in the region for the future.
Regional and national efforts will be at the forefront at the high-level Nutrition For Growth event on June 8th in London. Hosted by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Government of Brazil and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the event will bring national leadership together with global stakeholders from civil society, academia and business to outline targets for impact and commitments to action. The event is an opportunity to mark another milestone in a coordinated approach to nutrition that has driven us further together than any one organization could go alone.
To paraphrase comments made at the Paris meeting by Antonio Monteiro, former President of Cape Verde, malnutrition should not be seen as inevitable and as a global community we must refuse indifference. Good nutrition supports the growth of healthy people, strong communities and prosperous nations. And on June 8, we have an opportunity to strengthen this foundation for the future.
Ellen Piwoz, Senior Program Officer, is the nutrition lead for the Nutrition team in the Family Health division of the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This commentary is cross-posted with Impatient Optimists Blog.