Improving prenatal nutrition through multiple micronutrient supplements

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BARCELONA — On Tuesday, Devex and DSM hosted a digital event to discuss the importance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy. The event specifically highlighted the importance of multiple micronutrient supplements, or MMS, as a driver to improve maternal nutrition.

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A panel of experts shared insights on existing and future interventions to ensure the scaling-up of adaptation and access to MMS — an issue that is becoming increasingly urgent as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to impact food security and the availability of nutritious food.

Klaus Kraemer, managing director at Sight and Life and adjunct associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, emphasized three areas where more action is needed:

1. Supporting and working with the World Health Organization to update the agency’s guidelines on MMS during pregnancy.

2. Increasing investments in MMS programs to catalyze a ready-to-implement solution.

3. Evaluating programs and documenting lessons learned.

For many countries, the potential switch from iron and folic acid supplementation, or IFA, in prenatal care has raised questions about cost implications and adherence to current WHO guidelines, which were released in 2016 and included limited data on the comparative effectiveness of MMS.

Jennifer Busch-Hallen, senior technical adviser for maternal and neonatal health and nutrition at Nutrition International, has helped build an open-source tool on the costs and benefits of MMS to guide decision-making on addressing this problem.

The tool can assist governments in determining if MMS is “better value than IFA in their context,” she said during her webinar presentation.

There are currently 32 countries with technical analyses of the topic. In all of them, findings showed that MMS is more effective and a better value than IFA, Busch-Hallen said, adding that there is now more evidence around improved birth outcomes for MMS.

However, with disruptions to food supply chains and health systems during the current coronavirus pandemic, there is increased need for partnerships to accelerate access to MMS, she said. In addition, Busch-Hallen highlighted the need to support government ownership and leadership of MMS programs.

In Indonesia, the first large-scale randomized trial among pregnant women, aimed at assessing the impact of MMS on mortality, showed an 18% reduction in infant death and a 30% reduction in postnatal mortality, said Inraini Fitria Syah, chief project officer at the country’s Summit Institute of Development.

Fitria Syah stressed the need to increase the health care workers’ knowledge and ensure that they have access to correct and up-to-date information, citing them as key to the success of MMS programs.

It is important to provide coaching to health care workers so they can assist in the promotion of MMS adoption and compliance, Fitria Syah said, adding that community health care workers are particularly suitable for outreach to mothers and for tracking their consumption of MMS.

She also noted the particular challenges to adequate prenatal nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as social-distancing measures making it more difficult to seek antenatal care and the impact of the economic breakdown on women, resulting in reduced consumption of nutritious food.

Watch the recording of the event above and see the rest of Devex’s nutrition content.

This focus area, powered by DSM, is exploring innovative solutions to improve nutrition, tackle malnutrition, and influence policies and funding. Visit the Focus on: Improving Nutrition page for more.

About the author

  • Natalie Donback

    Natalie Donback is an Editorial Associate and Reporter at Devex. She holds a bachelor's degree in development studies from Lund University and a master's in journalism. She has worked in documentary filmmaking and as a freelance journalist covering politics and culture in Swedish, English, and Spanish. She is now based in Barcelona and produces content for digital content series and media partnerships.