Using Multi-Sectoral Programming to Strengthen Malnutrition Prevention efforts in Africa

March 25th, 2016 | Viewpoint


As the U.S. is celebrating March as National Nutrition Month, as a Liberian, I would like to highlight my participation at the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy (MSN) Global Learning and Evidence Exchange (GLEE) Workshop last January in Accra, Ghana. This three-day workshop sponsored by USAID and coordinated by the Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project gathered nearly 100 global experts in the fields of agriculture, economic growth, WASH, and nutrition.  With the six members of the Liberian team[1], I had the opportunity to attend many unique presentations about the state of nutrition in sub-Africa. Many staff members from John Snow, Inc. (JSI) were present and active, both presenting and moderating sessions, and I was proud to be part of it.

I facilitated a session during Knowledge Coffee, an interactive discussion of panelists sharing project achievements and I presented about the Liberian Agricultural Upgrading Nutrition and Child Health (LAUNCH) Project where I serve as the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) Advisor for almost 6 years. I had the great opportunity to present the best practices and get feedback from other professionals during this event.

I completely support the opening comments from Justin Finnegan, Deputy Assistant to the Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, who emphasized the importance of country-based efforts to improve communities’ nutrition practices.  Then, the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy (MSNS), launched in May 2014, was presented, outlining USAID’s long-term commitment to reduce woman and child undernutrition – specifically targeting stunting and issues related to access for safe drinking water. The strategy, as did some of my work in LAUNCH, bridges the sectors of health, agriculture, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), environment, early child care and development, education, economic growth, and social protection in order to improve the planning and programming of effective nutritional specific and sensitive interventions. These include better practices and uses of collaboration, communication channels, high engagement, program implementation, and building of a strong resilience system to adapt to and recover from shocks and stress in a manner that reduces vulnerability and facilitates growth.

Global experts in the fields of agriculture, economic growth, WASH, and nutrition gathered at the GLEE conference in Accra, Ghana.
Global experts in the fields of agriculture, economic growth, WASH, and nutrition gathered at the GLEE conference in Accra, Ghana.

I learned from the many presenters that through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future and Global Health efforts and Food for Peace programs, how USAID is confronting chronic malnutrition, rebuilding resiliency efforts, and investing a lot into nutrition programs. Unlike past nutrition initiatives, the MSNS stressed the significance of reaching across disciplines to address the variety of influential factors on nutrition, and if interventions are scaled up to 90 percent coverage, stunting could be reduced by 20 percent and severe wasting could be decreased by 60 percent. Some of the interventions include nutrition-specific interventions (management of severe and moderate acute malnutrition, promotion of breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding, and supplementation of preventative zinc, Vitamin A, maternal calcium, maternal micronutrients, and maternal balanced energy protein) that the LAUNCH project supported through the roll-out of the Essential Nutrition Actions. These nutrition-specific interventions along with nutrition-sensitive interventions (healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy, WASH, nutrition-sensitive agriculture, food safety and food processing, early childhood care and development, girls’ and women’s education, economic strengthening, livelihoods, and social protection)- some also included in LAUNCH allow for the most effective means of confronting under-nutrition.

I found that from the evidence provided, there is a strong need for nutrition interventions to achieve the second objective under the Sustainable Development Goals[2]. I agree with what many presenters reiterated that there must be more cross-sectoral collaboration to face the present and coming challenges, and this dialogue happening must be centered at both the community and state level.

I agree with Ms. Isatou Jallow when she explained that “…empirical evidence shows that increasing women’s control over land, physical assets, and financial assets serves to raise agricultural productivity, improve child health and nutrition, and increase expenditures on education, contributing to overall poverty reduction”. Ms. Jallow also suggested the use of the Enhancing Nutrition and Food Security during the First 1,000 Days through Gender-sensitive Social and Behavior Change model which combines nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions with immediate, underlying, and basic causes of the gender gap to improve nutritional status.

In order to address the issues related to nutrition, I believe that there must be coordination between governments and implementing partners using a cohesive approach. I think one of the largest issues facing nutrition efforts is that many national leaders do not include nutrition activities in their national budgets and programs. The nutrition goals being faced now are larger than before and no one organization can achieve success alone. The need to collaborate with partners who all feature different skills and expertise is the only means for success. Information, evidence, and data must also be openly shared amongst these partners and above all, there must be both the political and popular will necessary to generate a sustainable will.

With the LAUNCH project, we worked toward these goals and the GLEE conference provided many opportunities for the sharing of experiences and ideas. I heard and discussed a variety of solutions to nutrition problems through multi-sectoral approach in order to reach larger populations in a shorter period of time. Improper nutrition has lasting effects that move down from one generation to another. Looking forward, I am confident that preventing malnutrition through the multi-sectoral approach will break this inter-generational cycle and bring about a more healthy population globally. In Liberia, we are moving forward.

LAUNCH (2010-2016) is a USAID Food for Peace funded project managed by ACDI/VOCA with Project Concern International, Making Cents International, and JSI. This project aims to improve food security of vulnerable people living in the rural Bong and Nimba counties by distributing food rations to pregnant and lactating women and children 6-23 months, enhancing farmers’ agriculture practices, encouraging primary school attendance and rolling-out the MOH adopted ENA framework among health providers, community workers and across communities.

[1] Ella Jaiblai, Essential Nutrition Actions Advisor, JSI- LAUNCH; Dianah Bedell Majekodunmi, Deputy Chief of Party ,  Partnership for Advancing Community Based Services (PACS); Deroe Weeks, Executive Director Food Security& Nutrition Division, Ministry Of Agriculture; Jonathan Brown Nutrition Officer Food & Enterprise Development, Justina   Johnson  IMAM Coordinator Nutrition Division Liberian Ministry of Health

[2] End hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

Written by Ella Jablai

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