Impetus for mapping
Peru has been part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement since 2010. The country has a population of approximately 32 million and is divided into 25 regions, which are further divided into provinces and districts. Peru is currently classified as an upper-middle income country, and has made some impressive gains in combatting malnutrition with a decline in prevalence of stunting among children under five (CU5) from 31.3 percent in 2001 to 12.9 percent in 2017 (wasting prevalence is 0.5%). National rates for stunting, however, mask some geographic disparities, with three regions showing stunting prevalence of 31 percent. Moreover, overweight and obesity stands at 32 percent for children aged 5‒9 years old.
The country's adult population also faces a malnutrition burden: 24.2 percent of women and 15.2 percent of men are obese. A recent study showed that a national average of 37.2 percent of people under 15 years old with obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes. This was higher in urban populations (39.6 percent, rising to 43 percent in Lima) than in rural populations (27.5 percent).
There is also a serious challenge with anaemia in Peru, including among infants aged 6‒35 months with national level prevalence at over 40 percent and with the highest region, Puno, at nearly 70 percent. Women of reproductive age have anaemia rates of 18.5 percent.
Catalyst for action
United Nations agencies in Peru utilize the nutrition working group to harmonize their efforts and exchange related information and experiences. The agencies represented in the group include the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Pan American Health Organization- World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), with the latter taking the lead. Different actors in the group, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia as well as United Nations agencies, had been looking at different ways to give the government ‘a push’ on tackling malnutrition. At the same time, the Government of Peru had decided to focus on reducing rates of anaemia.
All these efforts coincided with the arrival of a new director at WFP Peru, Tania Goossens, who had previous experience working with UNN analytics in countries such as Mozambique. “When I arrived in mid-2018, anaemia was on everyone’s agenda, starting with the highest levels of government but despite the numerous efforts and investments, the numbers were just not coming down.”
“This made me think that a good place to start would be to do a comprehensive mapping to better understand who is doing what and where, identify gaps and do that analysis to better guide those efforts and investments. Not just of anaemia, but of all key nutrition interventions, given that some regions continue to have high levels of stunting, while obesity and overweight among children has increased significantly. It just seemed like such an opportune [exercise], especially in a country such as Peru where there is genuine interest in tackling malnutrition, high levels of capacity and funding,” says Tania.
The objectives of the mapping exercise were twofold: (1) to inform, sensitize, define and agree on the opportunities to improve the nutritional situation in the country; and (2) to promote coordination between the government, United Nations agencies, private sector, civil society and academia to improve the coverage of nutrition actions in the country. A technical working group was specifically formed for the mapping exercise, comprising: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, a private sector group (Peru 2021), CARE (representative of the NGO group Peru Prevention of Chronic Malnutrition), FAO, IFAD, UNICEF and WFP.
Getting government on board
The government structure in Peru is decentralized so that each region can make their own decisions, although the policy direction is given at national level. According to Emilia, this works in theory, but not necessarily in practice. “Lima has more than 30 percent of the population, which means that most of the action happens here. The challenge is how to improve this kind of practices in the other regions with poor and extremely poor people, for example in the Amazonia region.”