Mr Palm's speech during the Flour Fortification Initiative (FFI) advocacy event on 20 October 2011
Under nutrition in children is a major problem in many countries. It is a public health problem – because we want all children to fully develop to their potential. Children do die because of malnutrition - according to the most recent estimates, maternal and child under nutrition contributes to more than one third of all child deaths, also in Albania.
It is also an economic problem, as undernourished children will often develop irreversible permanent physical and mental damage that will hamper their future life and economic productivity. Mothers, who as child were malnourished, often pass this on to their own children.
Malnutrition in children is often brought about by a combination of three things: lack of quality food, frequent attacks of infectious diseases, and inadequate eating and child feeding habits. All three possible causes need to be addressed to be successful.
Today we meet to help resolve a particular type of malnutrition. The most recent data from the Demographic and Health survey in Albania show that anaemia if a major issue, and the greatest part of anaemia is due to iron deficiency. Solutions, which have been globally tested, do exist. These include fortifying flour, providing supplements and creating awareness among citizens - and policy makers.
A study was commissioned last year that estimated the costs and benefits of preventing malnutrition. Firstly, it found out that 1% of the Gross Domestic Product in Albania may be lost due to malnutrition. At a time when all countries in the world are struggling to keep their economic growth on track, often in the lowest decimals or even negative, this is an important finding. The study also found that the benefits of a package of interventions to prevent malnutrition outweigh its costs by a factor of 4 to 1. Now imagine that: If you were a banker, or investor, or economist, or perhaps from the Ministry of Finance, this would be an investment opportunity that is larger and bigger than anything else what you saw. It is the equivalent to an interest rate of 400%. Of course we are talking here about a public good, not private investment, but a benefit cost ratio of 4 to 1 is clearly something that no government may want to miss.
The Ministry of Health is leading a national programme to address malnutrition. It involves the Ministry of Agriculture and 5 ministries are part of a Memorandum of Understanding committing themselves to interventions in support of this programme. UNICEF, WHO and FAO are supporting this national effort. All partners are combining their efforts, because we believe that this will be one of the best investments in the further development of Albania.
There is, in fact a precedent, on which the flour fortification initiative can build. This was the legislation and implementation of salt iodization, which addresses iodine deficiency disorders which also impair physical and mental growth. The initiative also required the cooperation of several ministries and the private sector. Salt iodization has become a success in Albania, and I am convinced that flour fortification can become a success too. It requires a broad-based alliance, and this event is meant to further build this alliance, explain some of the technical details, and what is needed in practical terms. There are many experts here, from Albania and abroad, and I trust that we can make headway in addressing anaemia in Albania.