Opinion: Partnerships as a catalyst in improving maternal nutrition

MMS has the potential to save the lives of women and children but how can it be made widely available? Photo by: DSM.

Every country in the world suffers from at least one form of malnutrition, be it anemia, wasting, or micronutrient deficiencies. Women are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition before, during, and after pregnancy, with direct consequences for their children, as growth failure can be transmitted from mother to child.

Despite the increasing prioritization of nutrition in recent decades, today a staggering 144 million children under 5 years of age are stunted, 47 million children suffer from wasting, and 38 million children are overweight. Two billion are considered micronutrient-deficient.

Webinar — Improving prenatal nutrition: Making the case for multiple micronutrient supplements

Devex and DSM hosted a digital event to discuss how critical maternal nutrition during pregnancy is for antenatal care and global health in general. The event aimed to highlight the importance of MMS as a driver to improve maternal nutrition and share insights on existing and future interventions to ensure that all women have access to MMS during pregnancy and understand the benefits.

Expert panelists emphasized that greater importance should be placed on cross-sector collaborations to overcome current challenges and increase demand, supply, and delivery of high-coverage MMS. Watch the webinar here.

We are also living through an unprecedented time, as COVID-19 threatens the world — and the food security and nutrition of the global population with it. While economies reel from this new reality, we must not forget that malnutrition costs societies up to $3.5 trillion per year and reduces global economic welfare by about 5% annually through forgone output and additional costs incurred.

Investing in high-quality nutrition provides a significant return on investment for the development agenda and can help alleviate many of these losses now and in the future. This investment in nutrition and health systems is now more important than ever, as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls upon the global community to achieve a world free of hunger and malnutrition.

How to tackle malnutrition

One component of poor nutrition is micronutrient deficiency, or the inadequate intake of micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc. Globally, about one-fifth of perinatal deaths and one-tenth of maternal mortality are attributable to iron-deficiency anemia, and anemia increases the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight. Each year, approximately 20.5 million babies are born at a low birth weight — with the majority in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — accounting for about 15% of all births worldwide.

Multiple micronutrient supplementation, or MMS, is a proven solution that can significantly improve maternal nutrition, birth outcomes, and reduce infant and child mortality, as well as reduce the likelihood of stunted physical and mental development in children. It can also boost gender equality by maximizing women’s opportunities and access to health and nutrition services required for improved nutrition. In fact, gender equality and nutrition are mutually reinforcing — improved nutrition leads to improved gender equality, and vice versa.

Despite compelling evidence, the World Health Organization recommends iron-folic acid, or IFA, as the current standard of care for pregnant women. Numerous studies have not only proved the greater benefits of taking MMS over IFA — in birth outcomes and infant mortality, for example — but have also concluded that MMS is safe and cost-effective compared with IFA. Nevertheless, MMS is not readily available to many women around the world, especially those living in low- and middle-income countries.

“Investing in high-quality nutrition provides a high return on investment on the development agenda and can help alleviate many of these losses now and in the future.” — Mauricio Adade. Photo by: DSM.

The value of partnerships in creating change

Partnerships are one way of working to change this. Through broad, multistakeholder partnerships that combine the private and public sectors, we can eliminate “hidden hunger” — when people who get enough calories but suffer from micronutrient deficiency. Through our own work in public-private partnerships, we help expedite the design and implementation of critical nutrition projects and programs, ensuring that millions of people in LMICs have access to safe, healthy, and nutritious foods and supplements.

For example, to effectively tackle the issue of micronutrient deficiencies, DSM — together with our partners at the World Food Programme, UNICEF, World Vision, Vitamin Angels, Africa Improved Foods, and the Sight and Life Foundation — has helped put hidden hunger high on the international development agenda. Through our partnership with Vitamin Angels, we are already working to implement MMS interventions globally for children under 5 and pregnant women.

Investing in high-quality nutrition provides a significant return on investment for the development agenda and can help alleviate many of these losses now and in the future.

Another partnership that DSM is involved with — the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Accelerator, which is hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the Micronutrient Forum — is working to end hunger, eliminate malnutrition, and drive women’s empowerment. Launched in September 2019, the accelerator aims to advance the introduction and implementation of MMS worldwide and has brought together nearly $50 million in financial and in-kind contributions to reach over 17.5 million pregnant women and their newborns in multiple countries, including Myanmar, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, over the next three years. With significant commitments from over 10 partners across the private sector, academia, civil society, and more, this accelerator will make much-needed progress against SDGs 2 and 3 — the nutrition-focused goals — saving lives and improving the health of millions of mothers and newborns.

Other ways of advancing MMS efforts

DSM is also developing its own MMS and MMS premixes to equip manufacturers to produce safe and high-quality supplements, in addition to partnering with nongovernmental organizations to advocate for MMS scale-up at global and regional events. In Latin America, we also have a wide range of initiatives to fortify staple foods such as milk, rice, and flour, adding vitamins and minerals to enhance their nutritional value.

Finally, to guarantee that countries have the right information and tools available to assist them, we support the dissemination and translation of key resources. One such resource is Sight and Life’s “Focusing on Multiple Micronutrient Supplements in Pregnancy” report, which compiles and curates the latest evidence, experience from the field, and resources for scale-up. It aims to serve as an important resource for decision-makers and implementers, thereby driving the introduction and adoption of MMS.

The nutrition community has one common goal: to end malnutrition in all its forms. To elevate and maintain the health of women and give more children a brighter and healthier future, we must ensure that they have access to the nutrition they need at all times and at all stages of life.

In this period of pandemic, our fight against malnutrition is even more critical. We have to accelerate the implementation of nutritional interventions and the investments in public health programs.

The government of Japan is set to host the upcoming Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit. This is a major opportunity for other such global financial and political commitments from governments, civil society, the private sector, donor agencies, and the United Nations to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and World Health Assembly targets. Securing new commitments at the Tokyo summit and directing resources toward proven nutrition solutions is critical in accelerating progress to meet global goals.

The future starts today. Let’s not allow the economy to sacrifice the most vulnerable inhabitants of our planet. It is in our hands, and it is our responsibility.

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.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Mauricio Adade

    Mauricio Adade is DSM’s Latin America president. Since 2016, he has also been the president of global malnutrition partnerships and programs and chairman of the board of Africa Improved Foods in Rwanda. One of his main responsibilities is to actively develop and effectively implement public, private, and other partnerships and new business models, addressing malnutrition issues around the globe.