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Keeping up the momentum on nutrition

Earlier this year I wrote about how the hidden crisis of stunting is affecting millions of children worldwide.  Children who are stunted—or those too short for their age—might survive beyond their fifth birthday but their future could be blighted.

Research shows that stunting could result in children starting school later, missing classes or repeating a year.  These mean that as adults they could also be earning less than their well-nourished peers.   All these provide a strong rational for governments and donors to address this hidden crisis.

I am happy to say that we have had good news in this front in the recent month.  At the 65th World Health Assembly held in Geneva in May, health leaders from countries worldwide adapted the Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition Plan.

Welcome development

This includes a target to reduce the number of stunted children globally by 40 percent by 2025.  A global stunting reduction target is a much welcome development.  It has the potential to rally crucial efforts and resources to ensure that fewer children are blighted with stunting.

The success of the target lies in strengthening national policies and actions and the international community ensuring we have the adequate resources to address undernutrition.

Monitoring country’s progress is an important aspect of the target.  Nationally-representative surveys comparable across countries such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the Multiple Cluster Indicator (MICS) and similar national datasets will play a crucial role in tracking progress against the target.

Rwanda’s progress

The recent momentum on tackling undernutrition is heartening.  Indeed we have seen good improvement in some countries.  Data from Rwanda’s 2010 DHS, which was finalised in the first quarter of this year, shows that the country has seen considerable progress in children’s nutrition.

Between 2005 and 2010, stunting among children below five years declined from 51% to 44%.  The proportion of children who are underweight dropped from 18% to 11% over the same period.  There was a decrease in acute malnutrition or wasting in children with rates falling from 5% in 2005 to 3% in 2010.

The Rwandan government has put investment in nutrition as key to sustainable development.  Rwanda is also an early riser country of the Scale Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.  These and other efforts are helping improve Rwandan children’s nutrition.

Hidden crisis exposed

Now that the hidden crisis has been exposed, we need to sustain the recent national and global momentum around nutrition.  It is our duty to esnsure that undernutrition does not kill children or blight the lives of those who survive it.

We have a commitment from the UK Prime Minsiter David Cameron to hold a major hunger event during the London Olympics which is good news. Efforts such as this keeps nutrition in the agenda and helps bring the large-scale response it needs.

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