Last week, RESULTS were joined by  Rutharo Madzima, the former head of Nutrition at the Ministry of Heath in Zimabawe, for an advocacy tour on nutrition. Have a read of this guest blog from Rutharo and learn more about what she got up to and what she will take back to Zimbabwe from her meetings with UK parliamentaians.

Rutharo Madzima PicA week ago, I took part in a most memorable advocacy tour with RESULTS UK, a charitable advocacy organisation that aims to generate the public and political will to end hunger and poverty. The aim of the tour was to maintain momentum for nutrition in the aftermath of the Nutrition for Growth event held on 8 June 2013. This event saw donors all over the world committing $4.1 billion to nutrition specific interventions. The tour included meeting various members of parliament (MPs), representatives from the media, Civil Society, and RESULTSUK’s grassroots groups. At a seminar   on “Breastfeeding in the context of HIV”, I felt very honoured to share a platform with Sir Richard Jolly, a renowned ‘breastfeeding advocate’, who reminded us all that the week was “Nestle Boycott Week”.

Like any other experience, one has a favourite part. Mine was that of meeting with the UK MPs which taught me many lessons that as a nutrition expert, I often took for granted. During my encounter with them at a panel discussion, and during direct briefings with five MPs, I learnt that MPs can be very valuable advocates for the nutrition agenda, are willing to learn, and eager to participate. I was thrilled to listen to one MP at an UK Parliament Roundtable discussion on “The Importance of Integration in Global Health and Development Strategies”, articulating the long term and development consequences of stunting in children: maternal, infant and child mortality, education outcomes, labour productivity in children.

But how can we make this high level support and commitment for nutrition help to advance the agenda? We need to develop an effective way of communicating and reaching out to MPs to ensure that nutrition outcomes are achieved. Of course there is need to make an effort to appreciate the issues the MPs encounter on the ground and design the messages in a way that makes sense to people who have a constituency to serve, and often have busy schedules. Secondly, we need a system that ensures continuity in engagement. Most ideal would be an approach that encourages them to actively debate with fellow MPs and other stakeholders in decision making.  I was motivated by the “Question and Answer” approach used by RESULTS UK. In addition to this approach, accurate and easy to use data that is gathered in a timely fashion could facilitate participation and encourage MPs globally evaluate progress on meeting the set targets by 2020 which are:

  • Reaching with effective nutrition interventions at least 500 million pregnant women and children under two
  • Preventing at least 20million children under five from becoming stunted
  • Saving at least 1.7 million lives by reducing stunting, by increasing breastfeeding, and through the treatment of severe acute malnutrition

A nutrition advocate in any country, needs to take time think through how to make these figures a reality, make sure that money pledged is programmed in an effective way, reaching the vulnerable groups to achieve the desired outcomes. The momentum on nutrition is just beginning and we need to hold the MPs accountable to the commitments each country made on June 8 including those countries that did not make a commitment on that day.

Major global nutrition issues still to be debated by advocates and needing follow up with our MPs include: accountability mechanisms; addressing data gaps gathered over shorter time scales; monitor stunting and World Health Assembly targets such as promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, anaemia and wasting; implementation of the  Catalytic Fund for nutrition; and more research into nutrition sensitive programmes  to advocate for stronger actions to ensure that we are not continuing business as usual.

Nutrition has traditionally had a low profile and has been under-resourced. My interaction with the MPs showed that this can be changed for example with the Nutrition for Growth event. Of course, we should not sit back but we must make sure that the energy, interest and momentum around nutrition is not lost after the big pledging moment.