UNN-REACH supports high-impact Sierra Leone National Nutrition Fair

UNN-REACH supports high-impact Sierra Leone National Nutrition Fair

This year’s National Nutrition Fair, held on 5-7 February 2020 in Freetown, featured panel discussions and booths from international non-profits and local organisations showcasing their nutrition projects. There were theatre performances by the Children’s Advocacy Forum, a local non-profit, as well as the opportunity for malnutrition screening for children. Beneficiaries included school-aged children, health workers and grassroots organizations.

UNN-REACH contributed in many ways. UNN-REACH Facilitator, Dr. Sulaiman Sowe, and former facilitator, Dr. Philip Kanu, liaised with the UN agencies and donors such as FAO, Irish Aid and WFP and to leverage funding for the event. Then, UNN-REACH facilitated various private and UN organizations to set up booths at the nutrition fair.

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A poster on display, developed by UNN-REACH asked: Are children receiving the nutrition actions they may need? The answer was portrayed in two graphic formats. A graphic showed various interventions children receive, such as deworming tablets, Vitamin A, and optimal maternal breastfeeding, among others. Second, a map of Sierra Leone broke down nutritional interventions by district, revealing the number of actions that reach at least 30% of the target population.

Panels focused on the underlying issues leading to malnutrition, such as household food insecurity, inadequate primary health services,  unhealthy household environment (including limited access to safe water and  sanitation facilities) and suboptimal care and support, [1] which is the leading cause of death among children below the age of five in Sierra Leone, even though the country has made some progress in reducing acute malnutrition between 2010─2017 from 8.5% to 5.1%.[2]  The national prevalence of under-five stunting is 29.5%, as compared to the developing country average of 25% and the regional average in West Africa 27.7%− all within the ‘high’ range of public health significance.[3]

Resources such as the Nutrition Stakeholder and Action Mapping book were displayed in both the SUN and UN booths. This book profiles key findings from a sweeping mapping exercise undertaken in 2019 such as where intervention coverage is low, using the UN Network (UNN) tool, with support from the UNN Secretariat. The book gave participants a reference point for how the country’s nutrition profile was progressing, along with Tales Be Told, a UNN publication that includes inspiring stories to promote learning across borders.

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The UNN-REACH Facilitator worked with several UN agencies to ensure that high-level representation from government was present and that successful resource mobilization from REACH, UN agencies and in-country development partners was achieved. In addition, REACH resources were utilized to support participation of district nurses and nutritionists as well as representatives from mother support groups

What made this year’s event a success, especially compared to the previous one held in 2017, was the participation of high-level officials, including the Vice President, the Minister of Health, the UN Resident Coordinator, heads of agencies from the UN, including the UNN Chair and other NGOs that took part.

Ms. Gerda Verburg, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General (ASG), who is also the Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, helped to create momentum in the lead-up to the Fair during her visit to Sierra Leone on 2─5 February 2020. For the soccer fans in the audience, Gerda also spoke about the possibility of winning the World Cup sometime in the next two decades. The Olympics and the World Cup are both goals the entire population can get behind. Gerda’s appeal not only focuses national passions, it also addressed a growing obesity problem, with 2019 levels at 13.3% for women and 3.8% for men.[4]

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During her visit, Gerda also met with the First Lady, Mrs. Fatima Bio, who is not only an advocate of better nutrition but also chairs a regional campaign called ‘Hands off our Girls’. Both the current UNN-REACH facilitator, Sulaiman Sowe, as well as the former, Dr. Philip Kanu, were represented during the meeting with the First Lady. Dr. Kanu is the co-chair of the campaign, which works to reduce teenage pregnancies and to protect girls. Empirical evidence suggests that there are links between adolescent pregnancies, low birthweight (under 2.5 kg), stunting and overweight and obesity. [5]

Pledges were made including a committee organized by the Vice President that would include line ministers and civil society to make commitments leading up to the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) summit that takes place in Tokyo, December 2020. Finally, President Julius Maada Bio, who was attending an African Union summit in Addis Ababa at the same time, offered to become the ‘nutrition champion’ for the country, in coordination with the First Lady’s campaign.

Photo credits @ WFP/Evelyn Fey

[1] Multi-Sectoral Strategic Plan to Reduce Malnutrition 2019-2025, Sierra Leone.

[2] https://www.newsbreak.com/news/0NzKOpXS/sierra-leone-news-week-5-j-29-2020-national-nutrition-fair-to-tackle-malnutrition-four-sentenced-to-death-and-more

[3] UNICEF, WHO & The World Bank Group. 2020. UNICEF / WHO / World Bank Group Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates. 2020 Edition.

[4] https://globalnutritionreport.org/resources/nutrition-profiles/africa/western-africa/sierra-leone/

[5] WFP in its capacity as the host of the UN Network Secretariat. 2016. Compendium of Actions for Nutrition. Rome. Available at https://bit.ly/2Jb4ksN.