Today, the regional directors of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) Region, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in MENA, the World Food Programme (WFP) in MENA and the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Eastern Mediterranean Region have launched a pioneering framework for regional UN nutrition collaboration as part of their collaborative effort to address the pressing issue of malnutrition in the region.
Launched in Cairo, Egypt, this important initiative marks a milestone in the ongoing commitment of the four agencies to unite their efforts and expertise in supporting countries to prioritize and take effective and timely action on nutrition. The framework aims to facilitate joint support and systematic technical collaboration and coordination at the regional level to accelerate action on nutrition in the countries of the region.
Despite commendable strides made since 1990, and with the prevalence of chronic undernutrition decreasing from 19.1 per cent in 2012 to 15.3 per cent in 2022, challenges persist in the region. Notably, the high prevalence of stunting affecting children under five in 6 out of 25 countries is concerning – jeopardizing the physical growth and cognitive development of 7.5 million children.
Wasting, the most lethal form of malnutrition, remains a significant issue in specific countries. The average regional wasting rate of over 6 per cent masks alarming levels exceeding 15 per cent in certain countries. The number of children under 5 years of age living with overweight and obesity in the Middle East and North Africa has remained stagnant at 5 million for the past decade
“While there has been progress, we must recognize that malnutrition, driven by lack of access to nutritious foods, essential services, and optimal feeding practices, continues to impact millions of children. This collaborative framework sets the stage for collective action to address these persistent issues and ensure that every child’s right to nutrition is safeguarded,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director in MENA.
Abdulhakim El Waer, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa said: “The Arab region continues to suffer from multiple forms of malnutrition. The prevalence of stunting (20.5 per cent) and overweight (10.7 per cent) among children under 5 years of age was high in 2020. More than half the population in the Arab States, or 162.7 million people, could not afford a healthy diet in 2020. We rely heavily on this framework in providing innovative solutions to overcome these challenges.”
In the face of these complex challenges, the regional UN joint collaboration framework for nutrition provides a robust platform for enhancing synergy among stakeholders. This includes national governments, donors, academia, research institutions, civil society organizations, and UN agencies. The framework identifies areas of strategic collaboration, encourages joint actions, and promotes shared advocacy, resource mobilization, and knowledge management at both regional and country levels.
“Despite all our efforts to fight malnutrition, stunting, and wasting, they still affect millions of children in our Region. This is unacceptable and has to stop. The regional nutrition framework demonstrates our commitment to working together to combat malnutrition and save children’s lives, thereby helping to realize WHO’s vision of health for all by all,” stated Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
” Addressing the growing challenge of malnutrition is not a one-organization task, it requires a collective effort. This regional framework will help synergize our resources, knowledge, and influence. It’s not just about providing food, it’s about providing the right food, education, and supporting systems that build a sustainable, healthy future for every child,” said Corinne Fleischer, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Northern Africa and Eastern Europe. “Together, we can shift the narrative from fighting malnutrition to fostering nutrition.”
Consorted efforts are needed to prevent and treat malnutrition in every child in the regions, and we must:
· support countries to shape the policies, strategies and plans needed for a multisectoral and systematic approach to addressing the determinants of malnutrition — access to food, services and optimal practices.
· leverage partnerships and resources for complementary action to prevent and treat malnutrition in all its forms.
· strengthen the different systems of health, food, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), education and social protection to be more responsive to the food and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable children and families.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization – Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.