In June 2020, the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic is a health and humanitarian crisis threatening the food security and nutrition of millions of people around the world. The UNSDG stated that in the long- term, the combined effects of COVID-19 itself, as well as corresponding mitigation measures and the emerging global recession could, without large-scale coordinated action, disrupt the functioning of food systems.
Such disruption can result in consequences for health and nutrition of a severity and scale unseen for more than half a century. As such, the UNSDG stressed that food and nutrition assistance need to be at the heart of COVID-19 recovery programmes. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also stated that COVID-19 may prove particularly fatal for people suffering from chronic or acute hunger or malnourishment.
The African Union has recognised the need for strengthening nutritional care response in the COVID-19 recovery program. As nations in Africa are devising response plans to offset the adverse impact of the COVID-19 health pandemic, the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) has called on them to maintain and increase the level of funding allocated to nutrition to safeguard previous efforts to address malnutrition and ensure there are no gaps within their multi-year nutrition programmes in immediate, medium-term and post-pandemic recovery COVID-19 response plan.
These recommendations are outlined in the position paper titled, “Embedding Nutrition within the COVID-19 Response and Recovery” issued by the ALN. The African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) an initiative by the African Development Bank and the African Union Commission which was endorsed by the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments of the African Union in 2018. With a special focus on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life and the grey matter infrastructure, the initiative aims to influence and generate innovative investments towards nutrition and food security that will build a foundation for productive human capital in Africa.
The ALN position recognises that in the context of COVID-19, under nutrition compromises immune systems, making bodies vulnerable to infection, reducing the effectiveness of vaccines, and impeding recovery. The ALN position paper states that the structural weaknesses that produce the triple burden of malnutrition are well known.
They include limited access to adequate, appropriate and nutritious foods, insufficient exclusive breastfeeding, limited access to antenatal care among women of reproductive age and inadequate access to water and sanitation facilities. If not effectively addressed, the consequences of COVID-19 will only serve to derail Africa’s development agenda and the potential demographic dividend to be gained from its young population. The ALN position paper urges that high-level political leadership is required to ensure that actions and economic stimulus packages developed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic include plans to ensure that nutritious foods are made available and affordable to all.
It calls for prioritising nutrition in COVID-19 response and recovery plans by ensuring that sectors are integrating nutrition-sensitive actions within COVID-19 response, including water and sanitation, social protection and universal health coverage, agriculture, education and health systems.
The ALN position paper also calls for prioritising nutrition in health sector response through investing in programs that support infant and young child nutrition and also supporting and improving access to essential health services including antenatal care services, immunization and other child-health services.
The need to prioritize support to 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 processors and food distributors continue producing and delivering sufficient, affordable, and nutritious food has also been emphasised in the ALN position paper. Finally, the ALS position paper calls to engage and resource 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 and scaling up social safety nets, such as school feeding or food for education programs.
By Dr. Pawan Mathur
Photo Credit : https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/5978138992/in/set-72157627161283625