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Prioritize Nutrition In COVID-19 Response, Group Urges African Leaders

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – The African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) Initiative has urged African Heads of State and Governments to ensure that financing for nutrition is included in their country’s COVID-19 response and recovery plans.

The ALN Initiative was established to rally high-level political engagement to advance nutrition in Africa. It is led by a group of ALN Champions, comprising current and former heads of state, finance ministers and eminent leaders with the power to catalyze and sustain high-level political leadership and commitment to increase financial resources to end malnutrition in Africa.

The ALN Secretariat is hosted by the headquarters of the African Development Bank in Abidjan,  to foster opportunities for high-level engagement to drive policy changes in Africa.

COVID-19 has created major global health and economic shocks, with unprecedented impacts on people’s health, nutrition and livelihoods. As a result, Africa is experiencing negative economic growth, primarily as a result of the sharp decline in productivity, jobs and revenues.

At the same time, recent data shows that Africa has the highest prevalence of malnutrition and may soon overtake Asia as the region with the fastest-growing number of hungry and undernourished people.

Moreover, the pandemic will hit the poor hardest in many ways, including job loss, higher food prices, loss of remittances, reduced purchasing power, rationing of food and other basic goods, inadequate safety nets, and disruptions to health care services and education. This is expected to create a population of the new poor and push more people into extreme poverty.

The ALN gave the charge in a position paper, entitled “Embedding Nutrition within the COVID-19 Response and Recovery”, sent to African member states by His Majesty King Letsie III of the Kingdom of Lesotho, an ALN “Nutrition Champion”.

The group noted that nutrition cannot be left behind in the COVID-19 response in Africa, adding that Africa countries should maintain and increase the level of funding allocated to nutrition to safeguard previous efforts to address malnutrition.

The ALN also added that African nation have to ensure there are no gaps within their multi-year nutrition programmes in immediate, medium-term and post-pandemic recovery COVID-19 responses.

To make this a reality, they emphasized the role of high-level political leadership, particularly Heads of State and Ministers of Finance, as Nutrition Champions. The Champions, according to the group, aim to ensure that actions and economic stimulus packages developed to combat the pandemic include plans to secure healthy and nutritious foods are made available and affordable to all.

Lending credence this, the former President of Ghana John Kufuor, an ALN founding member and Nutrition Champion, warned that as COVID-19 cases rise in Africa, the impact on nutrition and food systems cannot be denied.

“The threat of this new virus requires us to adopt new ways of looking and overcoming malnutrition”, he said,

 He also pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic is a chance for Africa’s leaders to reshape and spearhead high-level sensitization, advocacy and resource mobilization efforts towards securing increased investments in nutrition.

Meanwhile, efforts aimed at embedding nutrition within the COVID-19 response and recovery forms part of the African Development Bank’s COVID-19 Response Facility to deploy financial and technical measures to cushion African economies and livelihoods against the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

The group further recommended that African leaders should ensure that qualified nutrition experts are included in planning and response efforts and effectively contribute to policy and implementation guidance for health, food, water, sanitation and social protection systems.

They also harped on the need to prioritize nutrition in the health sector response by investing in programmes that support infant and young child nutrition interventions including support to mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding during the period when access to nutritious diet may be compromised.

“Maintaining available delivery of life-saving nutrition services during the crisis will protect vital gains made in nutrition and human development over the years. Support and improve access to essential health services including antenatal care services, immunization and other child-health services. COVID-19 interrupts health systems and can undermine access to and delivery of essential nutrition services such as immunization”, the group further suggested.

The ALN equally recommended that nutrition in the food systems response should be given more attention by supporting food systems that deliver safe, affordable, nutritious food and diets that are accessible to all by supporting the capacity of smallholder farmers (crop production, horticulture, livestock, and fisheries), farm input providers, food processers and food distributers to continue producing and delivering sufficient, affordable, and nutritious food even during the crisis.

The group stressed that priority should also be given to nutrition in the social safety net response in Africa by engaging and promoting social safety nets interventions that center on nutrition (nutrition value of food kits, cash transfer, etc.) to enable poor household to buy nutritious food, to generate local demand and support local markets.

“Scaling up social safety nets, such as school feeding or food for education programmes. Prioritise WASH interventions such as handwashing, sanitation and educational messages among the most vulnerable”, the group added.


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