UNN analytics anchor discussions on nutrition investment in Mali

UNN analytics anchor discussions on nutrition investment in Mali

Malnutrition is sometimes invisible to the naked eye and perceived as a technical problem for professionals working in the health sector. When a joint AU/WFP study (2018) revealed that undernutrition in Mali was attributed to economic losses that equate to roughly 4 percent of the country’s GDP, nutrition gained its political wings. Key members of government recognized that conversations needed to go beyond vitamins and minerals and involve several stakeholders at all levels. This together with newly available data pre-empted the national forum that was held from 23 to 25 July 2019 and devoted to “Making nutrition a political and financial priority.”

While the event was organized by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, the Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance, H.E. Dr. Boubou Cissé, presided over the proceedings, sending a strong signal that nutrition is more than a health issue. The forum attracted over 400 people─ all determined to position nutrition as an engine for economic prosperity and human capital development so that Malians have a better future. Among the participants were high-profile international personalities such as the Vice President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, the former President of Tanzania, the Global Coordinator of the SUN Movement and the Director/Global Coordinator of the UN [Nutrition] Network, who each brought their experiences, insights and energy to the table. The three-day event provided an opportunity to reflect on the state of multi-sectoral nutrition governance and coordination in the country. Having benefited from two generous grants from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), starting in 2012 for specialized support in this aspect of nutrition, UNN-REACH experiences were centerpieces of those reflections.

Mali Forum -cropped

From the opening ceremony, where the UNN Director/Global Coordinator delivered a motivational speech, to the thematic panels, where UNN analytics helped frame the discussions that ensued, the UN Network’s value addition was embraced. Dr. Purnima Kashyap, UNN Director/Global Coordinator, spoke to the need to galvanize additional actors in the nutrition arena and the importance of partnership ─ including with unusual players ─ a theme that the UN Network Secretariat has been actively promoting during the last year. In Mali, this has resulted in new additions to the UN Network membership base, with UNFPA and UN WOMEN now on board and helping to reach nutritionally vulnerable women, including adolescent girls. In her words, “recognizing that 12 of the 17 SDGs are closely linked to nutrition, improved nutrition becomes a development imperative.” The exchanges between Mali’s Nutrition Coordination Unit (Cellule de Coordination de la Nutrition, CCN) and Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Clusters ─Nutrition, Food Security, Health and WASH ─ demonstrates that humanitarian and development assistance can be aligned. It takes a concerted effort, but the UN Network, remains committed to that cause.

Getting there isn’t always easy. July’s event illustrated how the UNN’s analytical tools and neutral facilitation has set collective action in motion, changing stakeholder behaviour and informing data-driven decision-making. The updated Multi-sectoral Nutrition Overview (MNO) brought into focus trends over time and inequities between regions/districts, urban and rural populations as well as between girls and boys, taking into account nutrition-related indicators such as food insecurity, infant feeding, teenage pregnancy, access to clean water and poverty. Key findings from the Policy and Plan Overview were also presented, enabling the integration of nutrition in the National Gender Policy and National Action Plan on Family Planning. This was timely as one of the forum’s three objectives was to better position nutrition in national policies and strategies. Results from the Nutrition Stakeholder and Action Mapping guided discussions on nutrition investment, another central focus of the forum. By putting these pieces together, participants were able to view the full nutrition landscape and understand its sectoral roots. This is helping them determine how and where to intervene─ holistically. These UNN contributions seemed to blossom at the forum and be backed by an unprecedented openness to learning together, including experiences in Chad, where UNN-REACH is funded by the EU.

Ultimately, the forum culminated in concrete commitments such as doubling domestic funding for nutrition and the integration of nutrition into Mali’s National Development Plan, a first ever. It also helped to articulate a road map for successive action to advance the national nutrition agenda. One of these next steps will be to launch a second wave of mapping in the fall with financial support from UNICEF, who currently chairs the UN Network and is covering the costs of the UNN-REACH facilitator following the expiration of the Canadian funding. This will inform the development of the new national nutrition plan (2019─2023) that is on the horizon, and in turn shape the next era of the country’s nutrition history– one that pushes malnutrition into the past.

Photo credit @ UN Network Secretariat/Sarah Cruz