24 Jun 2016

GNR Nairobi Launch puts a Multisectoral Face on Malnutrition

Titus Mung’ou Knowledge Management Specialist, East & Southern Africa, Emergency Nutrition Network

The government of Kenya underscored its commitment to ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030 at the launch of the Global Nutrition Report 2016 on 14th June, 2016 in Nairobi. The launch put a multisectoral face on the Kenyan nutrition landscape, with speakers and participants comprising members of the government, UN agencies, donors, academics, and the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, among others.

Kenyan First Lady H.E. Margaret Kenyatta officially unveiled the report with a call for more investment and legislations to improve nutrition, as well as to overcome barriers to breastfeeding.

“I am personally proud that this year’s report singles out Kenya as a country that has made significant gains in addressing obesity—a real global challenge—and non-communicable diseases,” she said.

Kenyan First Lady H E Margaret Kenyatta speaking at the 2016 GNR launch in Nairobi

Kenyan First Lady H.E. Margaret Kenyatta speaking at the 2016 GNR launch in Nairobi

Through her Beyond Zero Campaign, the first lady said, she had seen the impact of poor diets and poor health environment on children, mothers, and communities. “The burden of malnutrition not only robs our children from experiencing their full potential, malnutrition affects families, communities and societies,” she said. “It affects us all, and we must therefore do more to address this challenge.”

The first lady, who has run several national and international marathon races to raise funds for her Beyond Zero Campaign, underscored appeals made by representatives of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, who called on nutrition stakeholders to make political choices and establish clear policy direction to tackle the malnutrition problem. Though she highlighted the country’s progress in addressing malnutrition, the first lady also observed that Kenya is lagging in the implementation of crucial health and social mechanisms, such as the scale-up of breastfeeding programmes.

The first lady’s statements were supported by the Health Cabinet Secretary Dr. Cleophas Mailu and Health Principal Secretary Dr. Nicholas Muraguri. Principal Secretary Muraguri hailed the launch of GNR 2016 in Kenya as timely, given progress the country was making in key nutrition indicators such as childhood nutrition. However, he informed the meeting that Kenya was doing poorly in addressing obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, with 30% of the population either obese or overweight.

A major political stride to elevate nutrition status was made by the chair of the Parliamentary Health Committee, Dr. Rachael Nyamai, who said nutrition should be handled by various house committees and not the health committee alone. She pledged her committee’s commitment to ensure legislation and budget allocation to enhance nutrition.

“Nutrition is a political issue,” she said. “Parliament should consider nutrition as a development and budget issue.”

Dr. Nyamai proposed that her committee and the Ministry of Health should provide oversight on nutrition matters in a multisectoral setting that would engage MPs, encouraging them to channel nutrition messages to their constituents.

“The health of the people is the best measure of socioeconomic development of a nation,” Dr Mailu said, noting the need to invest in nutrition more than before. “It is an investment, not a consuming area.”

Dr. Mailu outlined some challenges facing nutrition in the country, among them insufficient resources and low engagement of stakeholders. Kenya requires better policies and systems to address malnutrition, and all ministries should make nutrition a priority in their interventions, he added.

During a panel discussion coordinated by SUN Academia Network Chair Dr. Faith Thuita, SUN representatives discussed progress made by Kenya in aspects such as the establishment of a multisectoral platform for nutrition, the development of policies, and better allocation of resources. Kenya’s SUN Focal Point Gladys Mugambi highlighted the following key findings in GNR 2016, with a reflection on Kenya’s nutrition context.

The chair of the SUN Civil Society Alliance (CSA) Nicholas Shiateya commended ongoing efforts to enact a Food and Nutrition Security Bill that aims to establish a multisectoral secretariat in the Office of the President. He advocated for creation of clear nutrition budget lines and challenged civil societies to be at the forefront in ensuring accountability of resources to nutrition. The Donor Network underscored the need for proper analysis on the root causes of malnutrition in Kenya.

The event highlighted the need for commitments at many levels--as was perhaps expressed best by the first lady herself. “We already have demonstrated that we have the moral and economic motivation, we have the resources, we have the guiding national documents, and we have the impetus to do away with malnutrition for good,” she said. “Let us remain committed. It is a race we begun many years ago. It is a race we must finish. It is a race we must win.”

Authors: Titus Mung’ou (Knowledge Management Specialist, East & Southern Africa, Emergency Nutrition Network) and Manaan Mumma (Nutrition and HIV Officer, World Food Programme, Regional Bureau for East and Central Africa)