Integrating nutrition and health: Strengthening the evidence through case studies

2 Dec 2016

This week, RESULTS UK launched its most recent research, Integrating nutrition and health across the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health continuum’. Anushree Shiroor, Policy Advocacy Officer (Nutrition), reviews the key findings.

  1. Why is nutrition critical along the RMNCAH continuum?
  • Nutrition requirements are increased particularly during adolescence, pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood to promote growth, good health, prevent (and accelerate recovery from) illness, and improve individual potential.
  • In young children, good nutrition is essential to facilitate physical and brain development, protects against illness, and also increases the efficacy of life saving vaccinations.
  • Good nutrition enables adolescents to reach their full physical, cognitive and development potential as adults. It also helps ensure young women do not suffer deficiencies on account of menstrual losses. Furthermore, well-nourished adolescent girls grow into healthier adults and are then likely to enter pregnancy well-nourished.
  • Good nutrition is of prime importance to prevent depletion of maternal nutrient stores during pregnancy and lactation to promote growth and development of the foetus and young-child respectively. Moreover, nutritional deficiencies in pregnancy significantly compromise survival and birth outcomes.

Photo credit: Anushree Shiroor/RESULTS UK

 

  1. Why are we calling for better health and nutrition integration across this continuum?
  • Nutrition is interlinked with health. Thus, the efforts to improve these two cannot exist in silos, and need to be better integrated starting from policy to programmes.
  • Malnutrition predisposes individuals to infections, reduces the chances and pace of recovery, and increases the chances of relapse. Nutritional requirements are further increased during infection, but so are nutrient losses, and thus a vicious cycle of malnutrition-infection-malnutrition ensues. This has severe consequences, particularly for women, children, and adolescents where nutritional requirements are already physiologically increased.
  • A strong foundation of good nutrition during these important phases of growth alongside illness-prevention and treatment, and proper care practices can save lives and facilitate growth.
  • At the global level, improving nutrition and health integration can push us faster and closer to achieving Goals 2 and 3, and also promote progress on other goals some of which include equity, gender, education, and economic development.
  1. Which are some of the best practices on nutrition integration with RMNCAH as identified in these case studies?
  • Prioritisation of nutrition within RMNCAH and development policy/strategies through SMART nutrition objectives and outcomes. The RMNCH+A and National Adolescent Health strategy in India, and the Pakistan Vision 2025 development strategy show that this is the starting point for targeted interventions and allocation of investments to scaling up nutrition within RMNCAH efforts.
  • National Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation programme (India) - reaching adolescents through school and community platforms to address high rates of anaemia, and establishing Adolescent Friendly Health clinics to improve sexual and reproductive health.
  • Care Group Model (Malawi) – Communities volunteer ‘lead mothers or care givers’ who play an important role along with Health Surveillance Assistants in mobilising communities on family planning, safe motherhood, proper breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, growth monitoring and immunization. This peer-to-peer model seems to be helping improve acceptance of health and nutrition messages and behaviours in the community.
  • Scaling up domestic investments (Pakistan) – Since signing up to the Global Strategy for Women’s Children’s and Adolescent’s health, the government announced an increase to its health sector spending to 3% of its GDP. Thereafter at the 2016 World Bank Human Capital Summit, it committed to allocating 1.6% of its GDP to nutrition specific and sensitive interventions.
  • Engagement with the Scaling Up Nutrition movement – Since having signed up to the SUN movement, Pakistan and Malawi are making progress on multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder plans and coordination, assessment of budgetary allocations at national and sub-national levels, scaling up of evidence based programmes on the ground, and strengthening accountability of all the stakeholders.

Read more about our findings on nutrition integration across the RMNCAH continuum highlighting best practices based on Malawi, India, and Pakistan through the links below

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