Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Tackling Undernutrition: “Everyone’s Problem, But No One’s Responsibility?”

March 30, 2012

When we talk about fighting extreme poverty and hunger around the world, we must address the issue of nutrition—or undernutrition (what happens when someone does not eat enough and suffers physically and cognitively as a result). Nutrition is crucial for meeting the Millennium Development Goal 1 and most of the other MDGs: a set of global goals to improve the health and lives of the world’s poorest people.

Why is nutrition so central to all of these issues? Undernutrition is an underlying cause of more than one-third of all child deaths in developing countries. Undernutrition also impairs brain development in children—including intelligence and thought processes—impacts adults’ ability to be productive at work, and negatively impacts household and national economies.

Unfortunately, this issue is subject to influences from both the public and private sectors and suffers from a chronic lack of funding, which has resulted in nutrition being “everyone’s problem, but no one’s responsibility.”

Global attention has turned to nutrition because of a recent rise in food prices and resulting famine in many parts of the world. Important new initiatives have come into being as well, such as the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement and the 1,000 Days partnership.

But still more needs to be done to look at who else must get involved in this global challenge, and how we can all effect change. As part of a growing interest in nutrition, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) conducted a “mapping exercise” of European organizations with existing or potential involvement in addressing undernutrition in low and middle income countries.

The research resulted in the “Nutrition Advocacy Landscape in Europe” report.

The report’s findings and recommendations include:

Making nutrition a strategic priority.
Many multilateral agencies—organizations working across a spectrum of countries—are increasing their financial commitments and integrating nutrition in other types of interventions, such as rural development and agriculture.

Nutrition as a more prominent focus of European donor organizations.
Bilateral donors—organizations such as USAID, that provide aid to developing countries while based in a single country—are integrating nutrition across programmes and placing high priority on results-based frameworks. France, Ireland, Spain, and the United Kingdom lead the way in Europe.

The Private sector (corporations) is increasingly interested in addressing undernutrition.
Private sector engagement usually happens through core business and expanded market presence, and through partnerships between non-governmental organizations and those businesses. The sector contributes a diverse range of expertise—from technical to functional—and an entrepreneurial approach. This being said, there remains a level of distrust between public and private sectors and a perception that the latter is often not seen as part of the response to undernutrition.

However, the report advocates for increased public-private sector dialogue as an important way forward. It also suggests a need for more evidence—more research on how large-scale investments in agriculture best translate into improved nutrition.

Today we have a unique opportunity to ensure that tackling the problem of undernutrition becomes everyone’s responsibility. If donors, funders, civil society, the private sector, and research bodies work together towards one goal, we can improve the health and lives of millions who suffer from a lack of nutrition in the developing world.

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