Guatemala steps up efforts to fight malnutrition

Guatemala steps up efforts to fight malnutrition

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Hunger Report editor Todd Post and I traveled to Guatemala and saw examples of development assistance programs that integrated nutrition into food security, agriculture, and livelihoods activities. We met with our friend Luis Enrique Monterroso, who had been appointed by the president of Guatemala to head the country’s Secretariat of Food Security and Nutrition (SESAN). Our work at Bread for the World Institute focuses on policy analysis and program advocacy, and the trip allowed us to see food aid being delivered to vulnerable women and children in areas of Guatemala where some of the most severely malnourished people live. I was struck by the overwhelming need, by the dedicated efforts of local Save the Children and Mercy Corps staff, and by the nascent efforts of a newly-elected government to coordinate and sustain its food security and nutrition efforts.

Since our return, I have reflected on whether these efforts would make a real difference in a country that has the world’s third-highest rate of stunting, behind only Afghanistan and Yemen. I was impressed both with Luis Enrique’s positive vision of a better future for malnourished women and children in his country, especially for the most vulnerable indigenous populations, and with development assistance donors who think “outside the box” to design the most effective programs.

 

Recently, the Republic of Guatemala and its donor partners, the World Food Program USA and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), announced“A Healthy Start for Children: Scaling Up Nutrition, 2012.” The Guatemalan government has committed to an effort to address the critical human development challenge of malnutrition across the country. An estimated 49.8 percent of children under 5 are chronically malnourished, the highest rate in Latin America. Via the Healthy Start program, Guatemala seeks to achieve national coverage of the 13 critical nutrition interventions, first identified in the 2008 Lancet series on maternal and child nutrition, that now serve as the foundation of the Scaling Up Nutrition framework. The critical interventions fall into such categories as changing nutrition behaviors, fortifying foods with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and improving complementary and therapeutic feeding programs.

 

By the end of 2013, the program will be extended to 166 municipalities, and then to 334 in the following year. The majority of the funding will come from the government of Guatemala, whose lead role in the program will help make it sustainable beyond its three-year initial phase. A key component will be the active participation and support of international organizations, private sector companies, and local civil society organizations, all of whom will be involved as promoters, financers, implementers, and supporters of the nutrition interventions. World Food Program USA will take the initial lead on some of the direct interventions, such as supplementary and therapeutic feeding, but with the intention of gradually handing off full responsibility to Guatemalan government agencies such as the Ministry of Health. WFP will remain actively involved in monitoring and evaluation activities, reporting back to the Clinton Global Initiative on the progress being made.

 

It is heartening to see a country like Guatemala, so burdened by high levels of malnutrition and stunting, step up and propose sustainable solutions to the problem. Incorporating active roles for local civil society organizations and the private sector makes sense as well. The program will follow the country-led model that the global community has identified as the most effective for development: WFP will implement the program at the outset, but will soon transfer responsibilities to the government of Guatemala and assume a role more like that of a coach – keeping an eye on the program and assisting if requested.

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