UNICEF and industry tackle unprecedented global demand for nutrition supplies


UNICEF and industry tackle unprecedented global demand for nutrition supplies

COPENHAGEN/ HONG KONG, 4 October 2011 – UNICEF brought together almost 100 partners today to discuss unprecedented demand for nutrition products and called for strengthened collaboration and partnerships among United Nations agencies, civil society, academics and the nutrition industry.

A health worker weighs a girl toddler in a sling-scale in the town of Bétou in the northern Likouala Province. The growth-monitoring activity is part of health and nutrition interventions being provided in the area by the Italian logging concession Likouala Timber. The company, which has concessions for 525,000 hectares of forest land, provides therapeutic food and other health and nutritional services for sick and malnourished children, as well as maternal and general health information. It also supports a skills-training project for young people. An estimated 10,000 people live in the riverside town.  In May 2009 in the Republic of the Congo, about half of the countrys 3.7 million people continue to live in poverty, and a large portion of inhabitants  more than half of them children  remain without basic social services. Despite progress in the areas of health, nutrition, education and basic child protection, access to safe water and sanitation is lacking, and malnutrition and disease remain chronic and widespread. Conflict in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo has also resulted in an influx of refugees into Likouala Province, a remote northern region comprised primarily of indigenous forest. Likouala, which also shares borders with Cameroon and the Central African Republic, is one of the countrys poorest and least-developed areas, with an estimated 165,000295,000 inhabitants who are mostly local Bantu and indigenous Baka. Semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, the Baka, who represent about 10 per cent of the overall population, live mainly in and around the forest and continue to face widespread discrimination. The destruction of large parts of their natural habitat (from logging, poaching and illegal cultivation) also threatens their way of life. Working with the Government, local authorities, NGOs and other partners, UNICEF supports health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, protection and other interventions, including in hard-to-access communities; and also advocates to promote indigenous as well as other child rights.

With demand at an all-time high for life-saving nutrition products ranging from ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to children’s weighing scales, UNICEF provided an update to the industry focusing on priorities to ensure that communities in need have access to the right products.

Over 20 million children globally suffer from severe acute malnutrition. The crisis in the Horn of Africa was a “harsh reminder of the importance of sustained nutrition programmes and the ability to provide a rapid response,” said Shanelle Hall, Director of UNICEF’s Supply Division. Four-year-old Mame Koroma, who is malnourished, consumes a ready-to-eat therapeutic food at the Kailahun Government Hospital in Kailahun, a town in Kailahun District.  In March 2011 in Sierra Leone, the country commemorated the ten year anniversary of the end of its civil war, which left 50,000 dead and 10,000 amputated. Although progress has been made since the wars end, Sierra Leone still ranks at the bottom of the 2010 Human Development Index. Health centres remain under-resourced, and medical care remains too expensive and inaccessible for many people. The countrys under-five mortality rate is fifth highest in the world, maternal mortality is among the worlds worst as well, and over a third of children under age five suffer stunting due to poor nutrition. According to 2008 data, only 49 per cent of the population uses improved drinking water sources, and only 13 per cent have access to improved sanitation facilities. Education systems are also deficient, with an insufficient number of schools and trained teachers. Girls face additional barriers to education, including high rates of early marriage and teen pregnancy, extra fees, and sexual abuse and exploitation in schools. UNICEF is working with the Government and partners to improve conditions for Sierra Leones children, supporting programmes that train teachers and school managers and that strengthen community-based health systems. UNICEF also supports a Government programme, launched in April 2010, that abolishes fees for primary health services for pregnant and lactating women and all children under age five.

UNICEF procures 80 per cent of the world’s RUTF – the most favoured treatment for severe acute malnutrition among children under the age of five. “Compared to 2010, we expect an increase of 50 per cent in nutrition products by 2012, but this is still only sufficient to help 15 per cent of the children facing starvation,” said Ms Hall.

“Together with our partners and industry we have to ensure that we can meet the need by increasing production capacity, encouraging new suppliers and supporting the development of innovations in product development.” She urged the nutrition industry to “help civil society, governments and the UN to find solutions to this human crisis.”

Participants also focused on global production of supplementary food, such as Corn Soya Blend flour, which feeds thousands of families in the Horn drought and famine in Somalia. Practical areas covered in the two-day meeting included work between Médecins Sans Frontières, the World Food Programme and UNICEF to implement a standardised quality assurance system for producing therapeutic and supplementary food. This will achieve greater efficiency in approving suppliers and provide the highest level of product quality.

A 12-year retrospective of awarded prices for internationally-procured RUTF has been compiled in consultation with the named suppliers and is now available on UNICEF Supply’s website.