By Elisabeth Anderson Rapport
Huyen Tran, Action Against Hunger’s Country Program Coordinator in Kenya, participated this week in a groundbreaking nutrition symposium. In a Q&A with me, she reveals how the results of the gathering will impact the country’s humanitarian interventions for years to come.
Elisabeth Rapport (ER): The first-ever Kenya Nutrition Symposium was held this week. Describe the significance of this event for the humanitarian community in Kenya, and for Action Against Hunger specifically.
Huyen Tran (HT): This event has huge implications for the humanitarian community in Kenya, and especially for Action Against Hunger who has always been on the frontline of the fight against malnutrition. The symposium marked the launch of the international Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement and the Kenya Nutrition Action Plan for 2012-2017. From a “silent emergency, silent problem,” malnutrition has been now officially recognized by all stakeholders as the key obstacle to a healthy nation and its development. The government has committed to spend 6 billion Kenyan shillings [more than $70 million USD] in the next five years to scale up nutrition in the country. Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo said that reducing malnutrition in Kenya is not just a health priority but also a political choice that calls for multiple partners and political goodwill, adding that communities will be empowered to claim their right to good nutrition and guided to play their role towards realizing this right.
To the humanitarian community, this doesn’t only mean more resources will be available to fight malnutrition, but it also means many parties will need to work together, and many angles and approaches will need to be utilized, in that fight. This will change the way humanitarian and development partners plan and work.
It’s great to note that we at Action Against Hunger are very well-positioned and well-placed in this movement, with our integrated approach of addressing malnutrition as well as its underlying causes, and our principle of working with communities. As such, we can take full advantage of the enormous opportunity offered by the country’s recognition of nutrition’s importance to enhance its role as one of the key nutrition players in Kenya.
ER: Why was this a key time to host the symposium?
HT: Kenya has high stunting rates of 35%, high malnutrition rates (Global Acute Malnutrition [GAM] rates up to 37%) in its arid lands and is currently experiencing a rise in diet-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, kidney and liver complications that are attributed to the consumption of foods low in fiber and high in fats and sugars. On the other hand, Kenya has made significant important steps in the long road against malnutrition, including the adoption of high impact nutrition interventions across the country, a Food and Nutrition Policy endorsed last month, mandatory food fortification as of this month and more. The government is committed to ensuring the country will be a middle income earner as captured in its Vision 2030 plan. With nutrition rapidly gaining recognition as a key area of national focus, it is clear to the government that this vision cannot be achieved with an unhealthy population.
Moreover, considering the coming decentralization of power to the county level in early 2013, the commitment to nutrition cannot be timelier, so it can be rolled out in the new government system and ensure action is taken at the grassroots level.
ER: What key elements of Action Against Hunger programming did you have the chance to highlight at this high-level event?
HT: We participated with a booth featuring our Mother Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) programming, with display of our collaboration in Dadaab’s refugee camp with Kenya Red Cross. In Dadaab, the world’s biggest refugees camp, Action Against Hunger has been supporting all health and nutrition partners to strengthen MIYCN. This intervention will be scaled up this year for Action Against Hunger to take the key role at national level for MIYCN. Naturally we would have liked to showcase more activities but the space was very limited and we can feel lucky enough to be one of the five or so NGOs (amongst around 40 present in Kenya) picked by the Organizing Committee to have a place in the exhibition. It’s surely thanks to our active participation in the nutrition sector’s coordination in general and in the Organizing Committee in particular.
ER: What main takeaways and conclusions do you draw from the event? What impact does it have on the way Action Against Hunger’s Kenya mission approaches its work?
HT: Let me quote again Minister Beth Mugo. In the keynote to the symposium, she said “The scope of interventions has to shift from targeting emergencies to focusing on addressing poor nutrition practices.” Throughout the symposium, the two key messages were to focus on prevention and to work across sectors to address all underlying causes of malnutrition.
Now you will see better my point that Action Against Hunger is well-placed in this national movement. Adding to the MIYCN intervention at Dadaab and national level featured in the symposium, which is focused squarely on nutrition practices, this year we also started a project on building national capacity and systems on integrated nutrition survey and surveillance. This is about information, early warning, and taking early actions for prevention. This is to say that we are mainly on the right track. We would evidently need to strengthen our integrated approach and integration of different departments for our Food Security and Livelihoods (FSL) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) efforts to contribute further to nutrition outcomes.
ER: What are you, as a mission, inspired to go do – what action are you compelled to take – as a result of the symposium?
HT: The key words that we took home from the symposium are prevention, multi-sector, coordination, and community. Therefore, at the national level, we will continue our strong presence in coordination. A lot more will be happening there after the symposium, and we have a lot to contribute in terms of advocacy, and development of guidelines and policies. We need to focus on our new national role regarding MIYCN and integrated survey and surveillance, which requires us to link up with global initiatives and be on top of information and new technologies and methods. Secondly, at the district level, where we have most of our interventions, a lot more effort will have to go into enhancing integration among Nutrition, WASH and FSL to have stronger integrated programs and better nutrition outcomes. Lastly at the community level, we will need to work more rigorously for community inputs at all stages of project design and implementation. A systematic community feedback system is being built for all our field bases to this effect.
The coming 2013 elections in Kenya will create many challenges to our agenda, with unavoidable emergencies, but as long as we have clear long-term strategies and a road map, Action Against Hunger Kenya is convinced that we will stay always at the frontline of the fight against malnutrition.