This year’s Global Nutrition Report (GNR) highlights that the opportunity to end malnutrition has never been greater. Progress is being observed and where it is not, there is more granular and nuanced data available to understand the challenges facing communities plagued by malnutrition.
Still, global progress is not overshadowing the struggle against malnutrition happening within communities and at the local level. For instance, while global stunting levels are decreasing globally, the absolute number of children that are stunted in Africa is on the rise. Exclusive breastfeeding rates are improving, but still, many newborns are not getting breast milk within the first hour of birth. Anemia rates remain particularly stagnant, especially amongst non-pregnant women as compared to pregnant women.
The nutrition financing conundrum
If we know what’s working and can identify the gaps, then what’s missing? While there is certainly more to learn about how to best address malnutrition, it’s impossible to ignore that even what we know works in the fight against malnutrition is not being funded at scale.
Donors invest less than 1% of development assistance in nutrition-specific interventions or direct investments in nutrition. While donors have met the funding commitment made at the Nutrition for Growth pledging summit in 2013, there is still a significant gap. The GNR assessed that there are early indications that governments in low and middle-income countries are committing more domestic expenditure to nutrition and there has also been an increase in the number and breadth of national nutrition policies and targets. We know it is critical that funding flows towards efforts to realize those goals now.
The opportunity to change course
The world cannot afford for progress in the fight against malnutrition to plateau or diminish. With significant donor pledges from Nutrition for Growth 2013 set to expire in 2020, there is an opportunity for the international community to work together and ensure that progress against malnutrition not only stays on track but is accelerated. The Government of Japan has announced that it will host a Nutrition for Growth event in Tokyo in 2020 and while planning is just getting underway, there are high hopes that this moment will raise awareness and spur increased investments in nutrition.
Here’s how policymakers can make a difference:
Recommit to nutrition as a pillar of global development that requires focused resources. 2020 marks a decade until the proposed achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Nutrition is a prerequisite investment to the successful achievement of all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (the 2017 GNR highlighted this!). Without significant investments in nutrition, all development goals are at risk of being undermined – stalling progress and threatening global health and resilience in the face of humanitarian crises. A high-level convening of all stakeholders including donors, country governments, philanthropic organizations, civil society, and the private sector is an opportunity to recommit to nutrition at this pivotal moment and generate new resources.
Build a foundation for the next decade of progress by investing in nutrition-specific investments. The fundamentals of good nutrition are still not being funded in accordance with the need. These include evidence-based, nutrition-specific interventions that can be brought to scale like micronutrient supplementals, promotion of breastfeeding and nutritious complementary feeding, and treatment of severe acute malnutrition.
Address the underlying causes of malnutrition with integrated, multi-sectoral programming that supports the overall health and well-being of families and communities, including access to water, sanitation and hygiene, and nutritious foods that account for the specific needs of adolescent girls and women. A research agenda and policy roadmap for investing in multi-sectoral programming to improve nutrition is urgently required to save lives and observe more rapid results. National country plans seek to tackle malnutrition with a multi-sectoral approach, but sufficient budget allocations remain a missing piece of the puzzle.
Hold all stakeholders accountable for current commitments. 2020 is an opportunity to celebrate progress and assess what is working and not working in the fight against malnutrition. Existing commitments must be met with integrity and transparency, and a more ambitious agenda should be set to meet globally agreed targets that leave no one behind.