This blog post was written by Shawn Baker, Vice President and Regional Director for Africa, about his attendance at the 65th World Health Assembly last week to advocate for maternal, infant and young child nutrition.
I arrived in the Geneva airport on a bright Sunday morning and an hour later greeted António Monteiro, former President of Cape Verde, and the West Africa Nutrition Advocate. He has joined HKI colleagues and me, and other partners working to improve nutrition, to attend the 65th World Health Assembly that will include a side event on acute malnutrition.
The World Health Assembly takes place in the majestic Palais des Nations, situated in a stunning park overlooking Lake Geneva. The grandeur of the Palais des Nations seems far removed from the front-lines of fighting malnutrition in Africa.
However, these discussions among the delegates from over 190 Member States, over 60 civil society organizations, and United Nations agencies can have major impacts on efforts to scale up nutrition actions across the world. The World Health Organization has been working with Member States to draft an implementation plan for Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition and its official adoption is being debated. Many of the programs HKI supports such as promotion of breastfeeding and complementary feeding from six months are at the heart of this strategy. If the Assembly buys in to this plan it will be another major signal of commitment in the global movement to combat malnutrition.
President Monteiro and our HKI delegation joined Action Against Hunger and Concern Worldwide on Monday for an event focused on acute malnutrition. President Monteiro was the first speaker at the well-attended session and his heartfelt remarks set the tone for the evening.
His final point really resonated with me: “To underscore the urgency, during the 10 minutes I have been speaking, in West Africa alone, 10 children have died due to malnutrition. Hundreds of thousands of others will suffer its irreversible consequences for the rest of their lives.”
Even while we were surrounded with the green beauty of Geneva, my thoughts were with the children suffering the scourge of malnutrition. The debates on the Mother, Infant and Young Child Nutrition plan will continue for the rest of the week, but President Monteiro’s impassioned support has already influenced a number of delegates. I am confident that our trip to Geneva will help advance global nutrition policies.