CENTURY PARK HOTEL, Manila, 6 April 2006 – In the first National Conference of Nutrition Stakeholders in the Philippines, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative Dr. Nicholas K. Alipui disclosed that major, irreversible damages caused by malnutrition occur in the womb and during the first two years of the child’s life. “Molecular biology confirms this finding. We must therefore focus on how to prevent and treat malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women, and children aged zero to two years old,” Dr. Alipui said.
“Damages to children include lower intelligence, reduced physical capacity, and passing on malnutrition to the next generation. These result to reduction in productivity and sluggish economic growth, which perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Most importantly, every child has a right to be free of malnutrition,” he added.
Breastfeeding during the first two years of life is the single best form of nutrition in these vulnerable early years. UNICEF promotes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months with continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for two years and beyond.
Dr. Alipui also revealed the alarming data on vitamin and mineral deficiency in the Philippines based on the UNICEF and Micronutrient Initiative damage assessment report. Some of the findings include:
- Approximately 10,000 infants a year are exposed to the risk of death immediately before and after birth;
- Folate deficiency causes 4,000 cases of birth defects every year. The deficiency also triggers infantile paralysis, and heart diseases and strokes which lead to deaths;
- Around 500 young women die annually from severe anaemia during pregnancy and childbirth;
- Estimated productivity loss among the workforce attributed to iron and iodine deficiency is about 0.7 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Dr. Alipui addressed over 100 delegates from international development agencies, the academe, local government units (LGU), civil society organizations, health and nutrition sectors and professional groups. The delegates represented the University of the Philippines; LGU of Bukidnon, Isabela, Metro Manila, Quezon, Tagaytay City, and Aklan; Center for Health Development; Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines; Koalisyon Para Alagaan at Isalba ang Nutrisyon (KAIN); Helen Keller International; Save the Children Philippines; and the Christian Children’s Fund, to name a few.
The Department of Health (DOH), led by Secretary Francisco T. Duque, organized the two-day conference dubbed “Repositioning Nutrition in the Development Agenda” in cooperation with the National Nutrition Council (NCC), the World Health Organization (WHO) represented by Dr. Jean Marc Olivé, and UNICEF. The five-point objective of the conference consists of reviewing the current Philippine nutrition situation, sharing success stories in nutrition and child survival interventions, identifying gaps/issues/concerns on policies and nutrition interventions, evaluating and creating recommendations for appropriate strategies to scale up actions to reach the millennium development goals (MDG), and recognizing the activities of the different partners on nutrition, specifically on the prevention and control of protein energy malnutrition.
The conference discussed the current state of nutrition in the country in relation to the Medium-Term Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (2005 to 2010), prospects for the nutrition situation, and MDG. Child Survival Strategy and Infant and Young Child Feeding were presented in the technical updates and new challenges session. Success stories on nutrition and child survival interventions from the barangay, city, municipal and provincial levels were likewise presented. The conference conducted a workshop for the delegates on policy and standards; interventions/communication for behaviour change; resources; and monitoring and evaluation to create a group output.
Although nutrition is recognized as a basic human right, and vital to the survival, growth and development of children, malnutrition still persists. Malnutrition continues to be a major international health problem that claims millions of lives. Dr. Alipui said that more than 5.5 million under-five children die annually. In the Philippines, the malnutrition situation has not substantially improved in the last 15 years. Child malnutrition rate, for one, has remained at the 30 per cent level for over a decade.
The Philippines, through the DOH and NNC, has committed to achieve the United Nations MDG that include, among others, the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, and the reduction of under-five mortality.
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