by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
I’ve often said that childhood is a one-time opportunity.
It was heartening to find strong support for this concept at the “Partnering to Reduce Child Undernutrition” session held during the MDG Summit this week in New York. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and Michaél Martin, T.D., Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, co-hosted the event, which spotlighted the critical 1,000-day nutrition window that starts with a mother’s pregnancy and continues until the child is 2 years old.
Leaders from governments, international organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector emphasized that undernutrition for children under age 2 causes physiological and mental limitations that can never be made up.
At this meeting, two objectives emerged:
1) Call attention to the 1,000-day nutrition window that ensures a healthier and more prosperous future for children.
2) Gain multilateral support for alleviating child hunger and undernutrition over the next 1,000 days.
Foreign Minister Martin spoke movingly of Ireland’s history of famine. Following a 2008 study on hunger by Ireland’s Concern Worldwide, Germany’s Welthungerhilfe and the U.S.-based International Food Policy Research Institute, Ireland has committed 20 percent of Irish aid to reducing global hunger.
Burden of Knowledge
As Josette Sheeran, World Food Programme executive director, noted, “Once you have the burden of knowledge, you have to do something about it.”
Secretary of State Clinton — reiterating the U.S. government’s support for country “ownership” — pointed out that food security projects come and go. Thus, it’s necessary to build capacity in countries so they are able sustain efforts over time.
In our work with communities around the world, ChildFund emphasizes nutrition as a key developmental factor for healthy and secure infants. Two years ago ChildFund signed on to the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) framework for supporting sustainable nutrition initiatives in countries with high malnutrition. The SUN Roadmap outlines a short list of actionable priorities to improve infant and child nutrition, which now has the support of the 1,000 days initiative.
Many basic things can be done to alleviate undernutrition such as fortifying foods, making vitamins A and E available to children and improving agricultural practices. We heard encouraging reports from Brazil, Ghana and Malawi — all have made great strides in reducing malnutrition in their countries. It’s essential to share these success stories and lessons learned.
On the corporate side, the Coca-Cola Co. and the Nike Foundation are two prominent supporters of improved nutrition for children. Coke has developed a new fortified nutrition drink that has been used with success in the Philippines.
Nike is committed to supporting efforts that lead to healthy adolescent girls. Foundation President Maria Eitel noted that in the U.S. we tell young girls that if they try, they can be anything they want to be. But if we tell that to young girls in developing nations, “it’s a lie,” she said. There are many hurdles in their way.
Ensuring good neonatal and child nutrition is one of the first steps toward breaking down the obstacles that limit children’s potential.
For the 1,000 days initiative to succeed, three components are essential:
On Tuesday, we certainly saw political will. The heads of Unicef, World Health Organization, World Food Programme, the U.N. Secretary-General, foreign ministers and ministers of finance were present — and we had strong representation from the private sector and development organizations. We can check that box.
The matter of resources is not so clear. Certainly Ireland has made a firm commitment, but a lot more people and organizations will have to step up to the plate.
Also unclear is the structure of the movement going forward. Specifics are currently lacking. To maximize this opportunity we need to build momentum over the next 1,000 days to brand the initiative and draw more supporters. Additional meetings are planned this week to firm up commitments from various participants in the MDG Summit, and a follow-up meeting has been set for June 2011.
We all share in the “burden of knowledge” that inadequate nutrition for children under the age of 2 creates deficiencies that can never be overcome.
For each child, we have a one-time shot at getting it right.