This blog is part of a new interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.
In this issue, we interview Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, about the key role nutrition has in global health.
Tell us about nutrition and how programs fit into the effort to end preventable child death?
It is a very exciting time for nutrition with the global community coming together to commit to halting a leading killer of children: undernutrition. This week also marks the one year anniversary of the Child Survival Call to Action when the United States joined UNICEF and the governments of Ethiopia and India, in a bold pledge to catalyze action towards ending preventable child deaths within a generation. What emerged from the Call to Action was a rejuvenated global movement for child survival under the banner of ‘Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed.’ Since then, 174 governments have renewed their promise to children by pledging to redouble efforts on child survival. Obviously, good nutrition is very closely linked to the Call to Action and the A Promise Renewed movement. We will continue to work with our partners to build on the progress made since the launch of the call to action, strengthen efforts to scale up evidence-based nutrition interventions during the first 1,000 days, and cultivate new leaders and nutrition champions to help us achieve our goals.
Why is The Lancet series important?
The Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition re-focuses the global community on the critical importance of proper nutrition in preventing child and maternal deaths and in preventing later complications from non-communicable diseases and in ensuring that children have the best start in life. The Series also provides strong evidence that improving nutrition is one of the best ways to achieve lasting progress in development. One of the most sobering statistics from this ground-breaking series is that more than 45% of deaths in children under 5 years of age are attributable to nutrition disorders, resulting in more than 3 million deaths annually.
It has been five years since the 2008 Lancet nutrition series, which galvanized the global community around evidence-based interventions for the prevention of needless suffering and death among children. The 2008 series brought focus to the crucial and strategic importance of good nutrition to the first 1,000 days between pregnancy and the second birthday. We agree with the authors of the Lancet series that “now is our crucial window of opportunity to scale up nutrition.” Indeed, we must work together to seize this opportunity to create the future we want.
How is the U.S. prioritizing nutrition?
The U.S. is providing global leadership, mobilizing our resources with a keen focus on results, and helping accelerate partnerships needed to achieve impact. From the creation of his Feed the Future initiative to launching the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, President Obama has championed food security and nutrition. Nutrition is the defining link between Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative. Addressing undernutrition is critical to meeting our shared goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths.
To demonstrate this commitment, we have coordinated and packaged, for the first time, the significant USG effort behind global nutrition: $1 billion for nutrition-specific interventions and nearly $9 billion for nutrition-sensitive activities over fiscal years 2012-2014. Also, USAID will develop a comprehensive nutrition strategy, informed by robust USG interagency input and learning. Supported by USAID’s Bureaus for Global Health and Food Security, Administrator Shah will personally serve as the focal point for coordinating nutrition programs.
What is new or different in your approach?
The U.S. is continuing to advance nutrition through a modern approach and new model of development that emphasizes innovation, technology, and a focus on the private sector and civil society organizations as key partners to ensure long-term success because we know we cannot do this alone. By leveraging the resources and expertise of a diverse constellation of actors — from the private sector to research universities — we can leapfrog traditional development barriers and create solutions that will encourage countries to create their own development plans to achieve their own national nutrition goals. In support of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and the 1,000 Days partnership, USG has made a new commitment to track “nutrition-sensitive” and “nutrition-specific” investments so that we provide consistent, accurate and meaningful reporting on programs.
Where must we do better?
We must crowd in local resources. Host country-led investment in nutrition is absolutely critical. But beating hunger and undernutrition takes leadership and collective action, not just resources. Countries themselves must take ownership and accountability in the fight and local civil society has a critical role in ensuring sustained commitment and investment at a country-level. It is also vital for donor partners to better coordinate our work. The strength of cooperation is crucial in the changing development landscape. Ultimately, coordination brings programmatic synergies, economies of scale, reduced duplication of effort, shared risk, and streamlined reporting. Importantly, in the current global health architecture, coordination among us can help us achieve better impact in complex systems.
Follow Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez on Twitter (@ampablos).