This blog was authored by ACTION nutrition staff who took part in ICN2: Anushree Shiroor, RESULTS UK; Kate Goertzen, ACTION Secretariat; Manaan Mumma, Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium; Margarita Matias Valencia, RESULTS Canada; and Pauline Pruvost, Global Health Advocates France.
Twenty-two years after the first International Conference on Nutrition, the widely anticipated ICN2 is now drawing to a close in Rome.
In so many ways, the conference was an essential step in the global fight against malnutrition in all its forms, providing a long overdue opportunity for all relevant actors to come together and discuss innovative, partnership-building next steps for multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral nutrition work.
But gathering together was the easy part; the real work is still to follow. Member States, civil society, social movements, parliamentarians, the private sector and others must take concrete action to make new commitments on nutrition, and to create a connected and concrete action plan that will set the stage to scale up progress in the fight against malnutrition.
After participating in ICN2 this week, below is our analysis of key events and happenings at the conference. Learn more about ACTION’s work on nutrition here.
Valuing the Contributions of All and Building Multi-stakeholder Platforms
We welcomed the collaboration of all actors at two specific pre-conference events: the SUN Global Gathering and the ICN2 Civil Society Forum.
The ICN2 Civil Society Forum celebrated the inputs of social and community movements on nutrition, including farmers, fishers, gender equality groups, health civil society organizations, and others concerned with the links between the environment and malnutrition. These valuable voices are not often featured in international fora, and we must listen.
At the SUN Global Gathering, members of the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, which is now active in 54 countries, met for an annual gathering to set priorities, share lessons, and network across multi-stakeholder platforms. As multi-sectoral teams, countries strategized on what it will take to end malnutrition in all forms, and the roles of each sector going forward. This set the stage for collaboration across multi-stakeholder platforms during ICN2 itself.
Valuing Equity, and Operating Smartly Within the Larger Context
We welcome the fact that civil society was given a voice during the plenary and we value the commitment of the CSO vision statement to human rights and the “do no harm” principle.
However, we also believe that appropriate prophylactic intervention—such as iron and folic acid supplementation and vitamin-A supplementation—are needed to prevent undernutrition and reduce both the risk of infection and mortality among groups such as children under five years of age, adolescent girls, and women of reproductive age. Life-saving interventions such as ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs) in cases of severe acute malnutrition, and zinc supplementation in diarrhea cannot be phased out unless health systems are strong enough to prevent the conditions that put vulnerable lives at risk in the first place.
This does not in any way undermine the importance of a need for resilient and responsive food systems or improved and equitable access to nutrient rich and diverse food—nor does it overlook the need to address socio-economic and environmental causes of malnutrition. We must value a deep commitment to human rights for all individuals, and an equity-based approach that prioritizes reaching the hardest to reach. This includes the right to health, health system strengthening, and improving access to treatment in addition to doing our best to prevent malnutrition. Preventing and treating malnutrition is indeed about so much more.
Bridging our Response to Emergency or Humanitarian Situations and the Chronic Emergency of Wasting and Stunting Globally
It was also encouraging this week to hear country interventions that understand that acute malnutrition (wasting) does not exist only in emergency situations, and is in fact common globally. Countries should leave ICN2 with a clear understanding that chronic and acute malnutrition exist in the same spaces and the same contexts—and we must address these issues in tandem. By extension, we must also address emergency contexts involving malnutrition in a way that integrates ongoing country or regional malnutrition contexts.
Charting a Clear Way Forward
Throughout the conference, States were reminded of the nutrition targets unanimously agreed upon at the 2012 World Health Assembly. These targets set goals for reducing malnutrition across six areas for achievement by 2025: stunting (chronic malnutrition), anemia, low birth weight, overweight, breastfeeding, and wasting (acute malnutrition). Member States and others spoke on innovative approaches, successes, and challenges encountered in addressing each of these goals. Further, a valuable new global targets tracking tool on what it will take at the country level to achieve these targets by 2025 was also launched.
Some of the WHA targets are already integrated into the standalone goal on food security and adequate nutrition proposed by the Open Working Group (OWG) on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While the employment of clear, internationally-endorsed targets to chart our way forward on ending malnutrition is to be celebrated, we also believe the considerable discussion of the post-2015 targets on nutrition throughout ICN2 sets a strong foundation for projecting these targets forward by another five years, to further bend the curve and chart us on our way to end poverty by 2030. There is no time to waste.
Finally, the landmark first-ever Global Nutrition Report, launched on the international stage at ICN2, will considerably further nutrition accountability work going forward. We applaud its release and the accountability tools for all actors that are sure to result.
A few questions, of course, do remain. A clear governance and accountability mechanism for nutrition was not established at ICN2. After three days of convening, we still don’t know who will be accountable for what. The Framework for Action sets recommendations but they are not necessarily measurable or time-bound. How can we measure the implementation at national and subnational levels? At the global level, who will be the coordination body? We call for a strong accountability mechanism that will integrate with already existing frameworks.
Following this excellent week for collaboration and setting new, actionable targets on ending malnutrition globally, all should be watching governments around the world closely—and doing their own part—to ensure outcome statements are put into action.