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EU and UNICEF join hands to curb stunting and anaemia

© UNICEF Philippines/2011
A student from the Barrio Obrero Elementary School in Lapuz, Iloilo lines up to receive an iron-fortified meal

Despite past efforts, millions of children and mothers in South and Southeast Asia continue to suffer from stunting and wasting, as well as anaemia, or below average hemoglobin levels in the blood.

The prevalence of these conditions in the Philippines and other countries in the region hampers productivity and perpetuates the debilitating cycle of poverty, especially among disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. 

According to UNICEF nutrition specialist Pura Rayco-Solon, in the Philippines alone “stunting, which is a measure of chronic or longstanding undernutrition, is at 32.3 per cent among children under five. This rate triples between 1 and 2 years of age and its effects are largely irreversible.”

Further, she reveals that anaemia rates among children 6-11 years old are at 55.7 per cent and at 41 per cent among those 12-23 years old. Anaemia among pregnant women in the country, meanwhile, “continue to be at levels [42.5 percent] of public-health significance”.

Maternal and Young Child Nutrition Security Initiative in Asia

To fight this chronic and growing problem, the European Union - partnered with UNICEF to allocate 20 million euros to boost nutrition security in five focus countries in the region: the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lao PDR and Nepal.

Through the Maternal and Young Child Nutrition Security Initiative in Asia (MYCNSIA) programme, the EU and UNICEF will transform nutrition security into a multisectoral issue in the region. It will also position nutrition security in the policy agenda of each of the five countries, strengthen capacities and communication lines, and replicate best practices and successful innovations.

The ultimate objective is to reach the MDG 1c (UN millennium development goal) target of reducing undernutrition prevalence by half or down to 17.2 per cent in Philippines by 2015.

“Clearly the success of the programme does not weigh on the shoulders of the health sector alone,” says Dorothy Foote, UNICEF’s regional coordinator for MYCNSIA. “We need to emphasize the need for all sectors to work together to strengthen nutrition security in all our five focus countries. We need to stress the multisectoral nature of the big amount of work that remains to be done and act as quickly as possible.”

In the Philippines, UNICEF has brought together a consortium of partners to ensure that the goals of MYCNSIA are well within reach. The programme seeks to reduce stunting rates among young children by five percentage points, and anaemia among young children and pregnant women by a third in Regions V, VI, and IX – areas identified to have the highest rates of chronic undernutrition in the Philippines.

MYCNSIA partners from UNICEF and the local community sign a declaration of commitment supporting the distribution and consumption of iron-fortified rice in Iloilo ©UNICEF Philippines/2011

Assistant Secretary Bernardita Flores of the DOH reported that MYCNSIA in the Philippines was now being referred to as the May Konsensiya program, the Filipino way of reading the acronym.

May Konsensiya literally translates to “having a conscience” or being responsible and accountable, which aptly describes what the program wants to do in the Philippines – transform all communities in the three regions into conscientious believers and supporters of proper nutrition.

MYCNSIA in the Philippines will focus on nutrition-specific interventions and nutrition sensitive development.

Nutrition-specific interventions include educational programs about the use of available foods and resources, the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, distribution of micronutrient powder packs and other vitamin and mineral supplements, and the fortification of staple foods, such as the fortification of rice with iron.

Nutrition sensitive development, meanwhile, involves making nutrition a goal of national development policies. Interventions in food security, public health and social protection are being integrated to respond optimally to undernutrition at the local level.

Next steps
The MYCNSIA programme in the Philippines will continue to work towards finalizing the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10028, also known as the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009.

Pilot lactation stations have already been established in local government unit offices, hospitals, and malls in the three regions. Working with the ILO, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), and local chambers of commerce, MYCNSIA will continue to advocate the establishment of more lactation stations in the region.

The programme will also continue to train community health workers, campaign to turn nutrition security into a labour-sector issue, scale-up rice fortification for target vulnerable groups through food-subsidy programmes, develop a comprehensive communication strategy, and update national nutrition surveys, among other focus areas.

“Malnutrition continues to be a huge problem in the Philippines,” says Christina Lopriore from the EU mission. “Various cultural and social factors detrimental to nutrition security in the country remain in place. Ultimately, our biggest challenge is how to work as a unified team and change negative behaviors related to nutrition to achieve lasting impact.”




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