Freetown – March 14 (KMN): There is the need for a concerted and coordinated government-led initiative to harness the commitment and resources of multiple sectors to reduce the high levels of malnutrition in Sierra Leone, an official has said.
Dr Mohamed Foh, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition Secretariat in the Office of the Vice President, said the high level of stunting among children, which is a sign of chronic malnutrition, points to the need for collaboration to tackle one of the country’s major health issues. Dr Foh was speaking on Tuesday at the opening of the final validation workshop of findings in the Nutrition Stakeholders and Action Mapping Exercise.
The exercise, which was carried out through support from the United Nations Network (UNN) for SUN and REACH [Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger, involved the collection and collation of data about the various actors, their activities and operational zones in the sphere of nutrition. It also looked at the mechanism through which these organizations deliver their services.
REACH, established in 2008, is a country support mechanism for improving nutrition governance. It works in close collaboration with nutrition coordination structures and SUN Networks, including the UNN.
The ultimate goal of the mapping exercise, according to officials, is to support the government and key nutrition stakeholders, including donors, the UN, civil society, and the private sector gain knowledge on the country’s nutrition situation and actions, and to facilitate dialogue and provide guidance for planning on how and where to scale up response to nutrition issues.
Officials say the results of the findings will contribute to improvement in planning and coordination of activities towards ending malnutrition in the country. The mapping exercise, added officials, will also enable local councils to identify their partners and, through proper coordination, minimize duplication and improve on planning together for common results.
“By understanding where each of us is working and what we are doing, we find areas of collaboration to holistically address the problem of malnutrition,” said Hamid-El Bashir Ibrahim, Unicef Country Representative.
“We can discuss how our work can complement another’s work, build a better alliance, and maximize the impact of our interventions,” added Dr. Ibrahim, who represented the UN family in Tuesday’s meeting.
He spoke of the need for the collaborative work to transcend the confinement of the meeting hall, into the field, where it mattered. Malnutrition is a broad term for a condition that results from deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person's intake of nutrients. There is undernutrition, which includes stunting, wasting, underweight and micronutrient deficiencies. Malnutrition also takes the form of overweight and obesity, which can lead to diet-related non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
Undernutrition is the most common form of malnutrition in the Sierra Leonean context. It has been blamed for a host of health concerns in the country, notably maternal and infant mortality, which is among the highest in the world. Sierra Leone has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, with one in three children found to be stunted by the National Nutrition Survey of 2017, the most recent report on the nutrition status of the country. The fight against malnutrition in the country is being championed by a conglomerate of players that include the government, its international development partners and civil society, under the Scaling Up Nutrition
SUN is a global initiative comprising 60 countries working to end malnutrition in all its forms.In every SUN member country, the government takes the lead and provides coordination. In Sierra Leone, the Movement is headed by the government through the office of Vice President and Dr Foh is the coordinator of the secretariat. A nutrition expert, Foh told participants at the mapping exercise validation workshop held in the conference room of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Freetown that the government was committed to reducing malnutrition, as evidenced by its participation in the SUN Movement. “The results will contribute to improving planning at national and sub-national levels as well as another multi-sectoral nutrition process such as coordination and implementation of core nutrition actions,” he said.
Mr Mohammad Bailor Jalloh, CEO of FOCUS 1000, which is the coordinator of the SUNI Civil Society Platform, emphasized on the significance of the mapping exercise and the role of civil society. The SUNI CSO platform, which comprises over 200 organizations, is the largest single block of stakeholders in the national SUN Movement. “We believe that the issue of nutrition should be looked at holistically, that’s why mapping is good,” Jalloh said.
“Nutrition is not just about eating, but eating the right food and absorbing it.” As part of the exercise, which covers the period of 2017, data was sought from some 79 organizations that include civil societies, NGOs and community-based organizations. But according to the report, only 48 organizations responded. The report also raised issues around collaboration between implementing civil society organizations and local authorities.
Mapping Analyst and consultant, Sarah Cruz from the UN Network for SUN and REACH provided the technical support to the national SUN Secretariat and its partners who conducted the mapping. For the government, said Francess Piagie Alghali, Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President, the mapping exercise will allow it monitor coverage of nutrition actions as part of a broader information landscape and facilitate multi-sectoral nutrition governance, planning, budgeting, management and other enabling environment actions.
“The government and UNN/REACH will continue to provide the enabling environment, technical and financial support for ongoing mapping of nutrition stakeholder exercise, she said, stressing that the exercise would go a long way in addressing issues of food and nutrition insecurity.