Welcoming a new plan to tackle malnutrition

My colleague Lara Brearley and I are in Geneva this week attending the World Health Organisation’s Executive Board meeting.

We’re here to try and ensure that preparations for this year’s World Health Assembly reflect Save the Children’s priority issues.

The Board discussed two new papers prepared by the WHO on the importance of nutrition for the health and wellbeing of women and children.

Well received plan

One of the papers included an implementation plan for maternal, infant and young child nutrition, which was well received by the Executive Board and other member states.

There was broad consensus that the problem of malnutrition needed to be tackled in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to improve the health, development and productivity of populations.

My chance to speak

I had the opportunity to make a statement in front of government officials from around the world and the WHO’s Director-General. This was nerve-wracking! But it was a great opportunity to set out some of our positions on nutrition.

I said that progress on nutrition has been far too slow and as a result 300 children die every hour from malnutrition-related causes and an estimated 178 million children have stunted growth.

I said that Save the Children welcomed the new plan and the WHO’s efforts to establish bold targets for reducing malnutrition and stunting.

I commented that the plan could be strengthened by having a greater focus on reducing inequities in the nutritional status of women and children within countries.

For example, they should make sure that the indicators chosen to measure progress are designed to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised groups are not left behind.

The global health worker gap

I also proposed stronger language on health workers.

Having enough fully trained and supported health workers is essential for preventing and treating malnutrition, yet the current draft of the report makes no reference to the global health worker gap.

I was really pleased that the delegation from Canada echoed our calls for equity, stronger health workforces and for further information on how WHO calculated its global nutrition targets. Ours were the only interventions that made explicit reference to these issues.

Comments taken on board

The WHO Director General concluded the session by calling for the plan to be revised based on the comments received today and for a background paper to be produced setting out the rationale for the global targets.

The plan will then be made available online for further consultation before being submitted to the World Health Assembly in May.

This was a great outcome for the first day of the Executive Board meeting. I hope the rest of the week will be as productive!

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  • Simon Wright

    Well done, Louise. Really important topics to raise. Without equity in targets, then we see a repeat of the problems of the MDGs – that they ignore the hardest to reach and the poorest.

  • Vivek Dharmaraj

    I agree with you completely on the health worker issue, Louise. In India, the village health / outreach workers are at the frontlines of health care. They are the first point of contact with patients. Unfortunately, they are overburdened, underpaid and in need of training and resources. Every time there is a new intervention, survey, plan or what have you, it is assigned to the health worker.
    When we look at health systems strengthening, we really should be talking about strengthening from the bottom up – grass roots upwards.

    Similarly, with civil society engagement, we have to find ways for the general population to connect with the front lines on primary health / sanitation. This is something that is being done with education in India – professionals from working backgrounds are taking basic pedagogical training and then, as volunteers for short periods, are teaching children in rural areas, urban slums, etc. I am positive a similar model can be developed for basic health care.