What’s next in addressing malnutrition? Accountability to the promises we've already made

A mother and child in the Tarialan district of the Uvs province in Mongolia. The family cultivates potatoes in its yard for sustenance. Photo by: Eskinder Debebe / United Nations / CC BY-NC-ND

Over the past two decades, the world has made enormous progress on improving child health. Deaths among children under the age of 5 have been cut almost in half, more children are immunized than ever before, and the rates of many infectious diseases have plummeted.

But when it comes to child malnutrition, progress has been less marked. Poor nutrition contributes to almost half of child deaths, while another 100 million kids remain underweight. A full quarter of the world’s children are stunted, meaning they are abnormally short for their age — a condition brought on by chronic malnutrition. The growth and development of these children will be restricted for the rest of their lives, limiting their learning ability as kids and hindering their productivity as adults.

The good news is that in June 2013, government representatives, civil society organizations and other private sector actors gathered at the Nutrition for Growth summit to commit to specific steps toward accelerating progress on nutrition. Governments set targets for reducing national malnutrition and pledged to create plans and allocate resources toward achieving these targets. Donors committed everything from financial support to announcing new nutrition programs, while civil society organizations and private sector partners made pledges based on their areas of expertise.

Varied though these commitments are, they have a common goal. Together they will ensure that by 2020, at least 500 million pregnant women, as well as children under the age of 2, are reached with effective nutrition interventions. This will prevent at least 20 million children from being stunted and save at least 1.7 million lives.

These commitments are dramatic, extensive and crucial. But the work is not yet done. These partners will reconvene in 2016 to evaluate progress made against their own commitments. And between now and that 2016 meeting, all actors must hold each other accountable to their own commitments to ensure continued and timely progress.

A necessary step toward this mutual accountability is transparency. Stakeholders should make public their progress towards the fulfilment of their commitments. As partners develop national nutrition strategies, mobilize resources and implement programs, they should also make this information readily available both for citizens and for other signatories to the Nutrition for Growth Compact.

So far, two-thirds of the recipient countries that signed the compact have nutrition plans available online. More than 60 percent have developed publicly available cost estimates for their plans. And it’s particularly encouraging to note how many countries have made impressive headway. Bangladesh, Burundi, Indonesia, Kenya and Niger, for example, all have comprehensive information readily available online, in addition to the strategies themselves.

While there are numerous ways that countries can publicize their nutrition efforts, we at ONE are especially keen to see countries publish information online as the most efficient way to reach stakeholders around the globe.

As we move toward the 2016 meeting and beyond, ONE is calling on all of our partners — developing country governments, donor governments, civil society organizations, and private sector actors — not only to continue making progress against our various pledges, but also to do so transparently.

We all came together last year with one common goal: to improve and save the lives of millions of children around the world. Now it’s time to hold ourselves accountable to our promises by fulfilling them in a timely and transparent manner.

Want to learn more? Check out Feeding Development's campaign site and tweet us using #FeedingDev.

Feeding Development is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with ACDI/VOCA, Chemonics, Fintrac, GAIN, Nestlé and Tetra Tech to reimagine solutions for a food-secure future from seed and soil to a healthy meal.

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

About the author

  • Anupama Dathan

    Anupama Dathan works on the global health policy team at the ONE Campaign, an international advocacy organization working to end extreme poverty and preventable disease. Based in Washington, DC, her areas of focus include infectious diseases, child health, and nutrition.