June 24, 2013, the First Lady, Ministers, Ambassadors, donors, civil society, development community members and academics were brought together in Addis Ababa for the launch of Ethiopia’s National Nutrition Program (NNP) 2013-2015 and the Lancet Series 2013, which re-evaluates problems of maternal and child malnutrition.
The day was a special one for nutrition in Ethiopia as the launch offered a unique opportunity for actors in all relevant sectors to renew and re-affirm their commitment to improve nutrition and support the government to deliver evidence based interventions as laid out in the NNP and recommended in the Lancet Series.
In a key note address, Minister of Health Dr. Kesetebrehan Admassu pointed out the efforts made by the government of Ethiopia to reduce the burden of malnutrition since 2008. “Ethiopia developed its first NNP in 2008 and achieved a lot in scaling up nutrition programs since then”, he said. Having identified nutrition as one of the key packages of the Health Extension Program, Dr. Kesetebrehan noted, “we have reviewed the NNP because we want to address some of the challenges and gaps in implementing the first NNP and clearly articulate the role of other sectors, and we want to align with the country’s Growth and Transformation Progam (GTP), Health Sector Development Progam and MDGs time line.”
Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Demeke Mekonon highlighted that the government of Ethiopia recognizes how much nutrition matters and the contribution it makes to the economic growth and development of the country. Mr. Demeke said, “The National Nutrition Program needs a coordinated effort from different sectors such as health, agriculture, water and education and to work closely with development partners. The government has put in place a national level coordination platform for nutrition by establishing the National Nutrition Coordination Body (NNCB).”
The new Lancet Nutrition Series was presented by Professor Robert Black, coordinator of the Series. Black shared key findings and messages drawn from the papers and highlighted the ten proven interventions recommended by the Lancet. A panel discussion on the implications of Lancet’s recommendations in Africa followed. This session spoke of the need for sectoral integration and commitment to tackle malnutrition in Africa. Panellists representing the Ethiopian government confirmed the NNP objectives are aligned with most of the interventions the Lancet Series has stipulated.
The launch event was more than this. It heralded the establishment of the Ethiopian Civil Society Coalition (ECSC) for Scaling up Nutrition, which will galvanise efforts to alleviate the burden of malnutrition in the country. Representing the coalition, Country Director of Save the Children Ned Olney said “The main purpose of the Coalition is to increase public and relevant sectors’ awareness of nutrition, ensure funding for the NNP from donors and an increased contribution from government, ensure improved nutrition governance and further raise the profile and political attention given to nutrition.”
With the NNP and Lancet Series launch, along with the establishment of the civil society coalition, this year promises to be unique for Ethiopia in its attempts to move the nutrition agenda forward. The NNP in particular was launched at a pivotal time with nutrition gaining momentum at a global and regional level. The message was clear, the government as well as other relevant actors should not delay in all efforts to reduce malnutrition The three-day learning and knowledge sharing forums that followed the launch actively engaged many participants in high-level sessions and provided a great opportunity to share important lessons and recommit to work together and finish, as Professor Black put it, the ‘massive unfinished agenda’.