'Must do more, better and faster,' SUN progress report on malnutrition says

A scene from the SUN Global Gathering 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo by: SUN Movement / CC BY-ND

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Only 11 of 61 Scaling Up Nutrition Movement countries are on track to meet World Health Assembly stunting-reduction targets by 2025, according to a new report released as members meet to take stock and formulate the movement’s next phase.

“This fact calls all of us to increase our support to country-level action: we must do more, better and faster,” SUN Movement lead group chair Henrietta Fore wrote in the progress report, which was released at the SUN Global Gathering 2019 on Wednesday in Kathmandu.

“The SUN Movement has helped demonstrate that investing in nutrition makes good economic sense, but in many countries around the world this investment doesn’t happen at all.”

— Jakaya Kikwete, former Tanzanian president and SUN Movement Lead Group member

The 11 countries that have already successfully reduced the number of stunted children under age 5 by 40% — a key WHA target — are Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Peru, and Tajikistan. Since SUN was launched in 2010, the number of children under 5 affected by stunting has decreased from 171 million to 149 million globally. But in the 61 SUN countries, approximately 95 million children in this age group are stunted and nearly 24 million suffered from wasting in 2018.

Twenty-three SUN countries have made progress on stunting, while 13 have made little or no progress and 14 countries did not provide sufficient data. None of the 61 countries are on track to meet the WHA goals of reducing anemia in women of reproductive age by 50% or reducing the incidence of low birth weight by 30%. Nearly half of the countries are expected to see no rise in childhood overweight, while about a third are on track to increase exclusive breastfeeding for infants in the first 6 months of life up to at least 50%.

Less than a quarter of countries are projected to reduce childhood wasting to less than 5%, while another quarter have made some progress or little to no progress, with the final quarter providing insufficient data.

The progress report was released as SUN is conducting a strategic review to guide the third phase of the movement, which will take it through 2025, the deadline year for WHA targets. The second phase ends in 2020.

The progress report acknowledged that while “many SUN countries are moving in the right direction,” challenges remain to ensuring proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life and beyond. Stunting has risen in Africa, with the number of stunted children under age 5 in SUN countries on the continent totaling 55.1 million in 2018. Latin America made the greatest progress in reducing stunting, although the rate of overweight children under age 5 have increased to 7.5%.

SUN considers the multisectoral approach to be the key to solving the world’s nutrition challenges and promotes government-wide coordination to catalyze sufficient spending and progress on nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. The movement was launched by the United Nations in 2010 out of recognition that international mechanisms were not adequately addressing the challenge of undernutrition.

According to the report, 42 SUN countries have national nutrition plans, with nine countries currently drafting or updating one, while 58 have completed assessments with the joint assessment tool, which identifies national challenges and solutions to determine future action. Fifty-five SUN countries currently have multistakeholder platforms to coordinate national efforts to improve nutrition.

“Nutrition must be explicitly integrated in global and national initiatives for climate change, agriculture and food security, water and sanitation, gender equality, social protection, and universal health coverage to reduce fragmentation and ensure mutual wins,” the report said.

Although every $1 invested in proven nutrition programs provides $16 in benefits, the report identified a “critical gap” remaining in nutrition financing, particularly in countries facing a significant threat of famine as a result of conflict, climate change, or a lack of economic growth. Investments must also be better aligned if nutrition targets are to be met, it said.

While governments spend the largest share of these investments on nutrition, donor involvement must keep pace with needs. In 2017, donor funding fell $100 million short, with projected needs only expected to increase, according to the progress report.

“The SUN Movement has helped demonstrate that investing in nutrition makes good economic sense, but in many countries around the world this investment doesn’t happen at all or does not happen to the extent which it should,” said former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, a member of the SUN Movement Lead Group. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”

Editor’s note: SUN facilitated Devex’s travel to the SUN Global Gathering. Devex retains full editorial control and responsibility for this content.

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh is a Reporter with Devex based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa wrote about Latin America from McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She worked as a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.