By Leslie Engel
The first-ever Global Nutrition Report made its North American debut at a launch event co-hosted by Columbia University and UNICEF in New York City on December 8, 2014, at the UNICEF Headquarters.
Werner Schultink, Chief of Nutrition at UNICEF gave opening remarks to the sizable crowd, noting the importance of the Global Nutrition Report as tool for creating sustained interest in nutrition progress.
“We need to build a momentum for nutrition for tomorrow’s children,” Schultink said.
He then turned the floor over to Lawrence Haddad, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Institute and lead author of the report. As the day’s Master of Ceremonies, Haddad moderated a lively discussion featuring New York-based nutrition and development experts. Panelists shared their ideas on how to move the global nutrition field forward, based on the report’s findings.
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Kathy Spahn, President & CEO of Helen Keller International, addressed the central role that civil society organizations play in reducing malnutrition. She emphasized the importance of partnerships on the ground in local communities where interventions are taking place, as well as within the nutrition community and beyond.
“We need to make sure everyone’s singing that wonderful nutrition song on the same key, with the same words, ” she said.
In the future she would like to see an increased focus on nutrition-sensitive approaches like gender, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and capacity building.
Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute and SDSN, joined by video to highlight the importance of integrating nutrition into the post-2015 development agenda, which features major summits on finance, climate change and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. On the SDGs, he noted that nutrition is pervasive throughout a range of goals, and not just SDG #2 where it is explicitly mentioned. Sachs called on the nutrition community to provide a clear roadmap for the pivotal year ahead, and to set goals for future years so progress can be tracked.
Glenn Denning, Director of SDSN’s New York office, noted that the nutrition community should use the momentum of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement to “break from incrementalism.” He boldly suggested the adaptation of a pooled nutrition fund similar to the Global Fund, adding that “fears of unwieldy vertical funding are unfounded.” He proposed a “Scaling Up Nutrition Fund” be brought to the table at the UN summit to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015.
In contrast, Leith Greenslade, Vice Chair at MDG Health Alliance, declared the days of vertical funding over, and instead suggested that nutrition be integrated into the Global Financing Facility currently under development. In addition, she advocated for more ambitious targets, integration of nutrition into other health interventions, active engagement with the private sector and a greater focus on women, particularly adolescent girls.
Turning to implementation, Silke Pietzche, Technical Director at Action Against Hunger, discussed the barriers to achieving better coverage of nutrition interventions. In the field, distance, cost, security and lack of knowledge are considerable obstacles to scaling up interventions. She offered three solutions: community outreach, bringing services to the people and incentivizing participation.
On capacity, Richard Decklebaum, Director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, stressed the importance of growing the nutrition community and training “nutritionists for the 21st century” who can work across disciplines and sectors.
Closing out panel remarks, Mandana Arabi, Executive Director of the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Studies at the New York Academy of Sciences underscored the need for more country-focused research that is also accessible to those working on the ground.
“Information and meaningful knowledge can be a movement for action. We need research that can support the work of nutrition champions,” she said.
An animated question and answer session rounded out the event, featuring debates on pooled funding, the integration of nutrition into the SDGs and the best way to articulate the World Health Assembly Global Nutrition Targets. The day’s discussions provided much food for thought for the global nutrition and development communities as well as the next Global Nutrition Report, slated for 2015.
Leslie Engel is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY.