Countries need all hands on deck to protect nutrition during COVID-19
Nutrition plays a fundamental role in the health and well-being of women, children, and adolescents, which is why it has been a strong area of interest and investment as a means of delivering on the GFF’s mission. The current health, economic, and social crisis, caused by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, could be disastrous to nutrition and food security because of its impact on two of the direct determinants of nutritional status, which are dietary intake and disease.
First, the economic impact of the crisis will likely contribute to lower dietary quality and possibly total caloric intake. Household income is declining dramatically, and remittances are at all-time lows. For example, in Haiti, a country with the second largest share of remittances as a percentage of its GDP (34%), projected reductions of 20% in remittances globally will have significant implications for the food purchasing and consumption patterns of households depending on that income.
Second, disruptions in the delivery and utilization of essential and routine health and nutrition services for adolescents, women, and children are likely to increase morbidity, which acts synergistically with nutrition to increase the risk of mortality. Reports of lower service utilization and availability have emerged in high income countries, and we expect to see similar trends in lower- and middle-income countries where the virus is now entering a community transmission phase.
We urge countries to act swiftly to protect the nutrition needs of their populations through multisectoral approaches, putting all hands on deck to:
- Ensure continuity in access to essential health and nutrition services. Interventions should include demand-creation for preventive and routine services like immunizations, combined with the provision of these services in a way that protects both health workers as well as patients.
- Work with other sectors to minimize disruptions in local and national food supply chains, and give households the means to access and purchase nutritious foods. Many countries are turning towards cash transfers as one mechanism to support households with lost or reduced income, but policies that promote trade and minimize disruptions to market access and functioning are also critical.
Much progress has been made in improving nutrition globally and in many GFF countries in the recent years. Indonesia is one such example, where the GFF has supported the Government’s nutrition convergence approach that led to a reduction in child stunting of 3.1 percentage points between 2018 and 2019. With covid-19 pandemic already causing disruptions in access to healthcare and nutrition services, lack of action on these two broad fronts risks erasing this progress, going well beyond nutrition indicators alone and extending to additional health consequences that nutrition is strongly linked to.