Nutrition momentum builds in Ethiopia at the Micronutrient Global Forum

Kenaw GebreselassieKenaw Gebreselassie, Research Uptake Officer for Transform Nutrition in Ethiopia explains why the Micronutrient Forum has given additional energy to Ethiopia’s focus on malnutrition.

2013 saw the launch of the National Nutrition Program in Ethiopia, which is a multi-sectorial initiative to address malnutrition in the country. This event conveyed the clear message that nutrition is gaining momentum as an issue in Ethiopia.

This month Ethiopia hosted the Micronutrients Global Forum, which I believe will give even more impetus to nutrition action. With the theme ‘bridging discovery and delivery’, the Forum served as a stage for debate about nutrition evidence and micronutrients in particular. Research findings and experiences of various countries have indicated multiple pathways for reducing malnutrition mainly in high-burden countries, including Ethiopia.

For me, the two themes that stood out at the Forum were enhancing multi-sectorial engagement and the value of agriculture for nutrition. These are also among the main recommendations of the Lancet Nutrition Series (2013).

Several countries suffering from a high-burden of malnutrition lack muti-sectoral coordination, which hampers their efforts to tackle the crisis. This is why the issue has been echoed by many from the First Lady and the Health Minster of Ethiopia to researchers and experts in the field, such as Stuart Gillespie and Marie Ruel of IFPRI/Transform Nutrition. In his presentation on the second day, Stuart stressed the need to address multi-sectoral engagement saying “Malnutrition is multi-causal in nature, requiring action from many actors and organizations in different sectors at different levels, including public and private sector’’. This was also highlighted by Dr.Kesetebrahan, the Health Minister, during his opening statement of the Forum.

‘Investing in nutrition sensitive programs’ was at the heart of many of the presentations. According to the Lancet, “Nutrition-sensitive programs can serve as delivery platforms for nutrition-specific interventions, potentially increasing their scale, coverage, and effectiveness”. One of main issues was taking account of the potential value and impact of agriculture on nutrition. Despite very few examples of scaled-up programs and limited evidence of its impact on nutrition outcomes, agriculture-based programs are said to be good delivery platforms for micronutrients interventions.

The urge to invest in nutrition sensitive programs essentially leads to advocate for the need to take a muti-sectoral approach. This is not only possible but practically achievable. Tackling malnutrition needs team work across multiple sectors if it is to be fruitful.

In this week-long nutrition focused global forum, Transform Nutrition’s work has been presented in various sessions and its role in providing evidence to inspire action has been showcased.

In sum, convening researchers, academics, CSOs, nutrition entrepreneurs, and the media, the Micronutrients Global Forum represented a great opportunity for Ethiopia and other African countries to share experiences and gain knowledge from the range of scientific evidence presented, the experiences shared, and key messages conveyed.  

As the Ethiopian government works to ensure its commitments are realised, the forum gives additional energy to combat malnutrition among the vulnerable population. On the advocacy front, the First Lady of Ethiopia, who has officially been named nutrition ambassador, is expected to add more drive to the on-going and new efforts to end the crisis.