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Blog: Exploring Multi-Sectoral Programming for Nutrition in the Philippines

By Dr. Charulatha Banerjee on 31 July 2019

In 2019 ENN, continuing its case studies series on Multisectoral programming at the Subnational level, plans to study two more countries -Philippines and Zimbabwe, within the final year of the TAN project. With this in mind, in July, accompanied by the Global Knowledge Management Coordinator, Natalie Sessions, I visited the Philippines’ capital Manila for a scoping visit. In this week we intended to understand the history of nutrition plans and programmes in the country, the burden of malnutrition and district level variance, the structure of implementation hierarchy for nutrition programming and how this fits in with the existing governance structure in the country, the different multisectoral nutrition programmes in place and the factors that have supported nutrition improvement in the country.

Philippines is an archipelago with a population of 108,12 million and owing to its geographical location, faces regular climatic events such as typhoons and hurricanes. It is a middle income country with a per capita income of 2970 USD. Undernutrition is a serious problem with 30.3 % of children U5 being stunted with very slow progress being made within the last 15 years. Wasting has shown a consistent upward trend with a wasting prevalence in children U5 hovering between 6 and 8% in the past 15 years. Recent surveys show very poor dietary diversity scores with less than 20% of children in the 6-23 months age group consuming a minimal acceptable diet and only 1 in 4 infants aged 5 months being exclusively breastfed. The country which is rapidly urbanising like the rest of South and South East Asia is also facing rising rates of overweight and obesity in school children and adults.

This less than encouraging situation is despite a long history of Nutrition Plans and Policies by successive governments in the country from as early as the 1970s. As a result of high level of wasting in the country, the National Nutrition Council set up in 1974 was under the Ministry of Agriculture and was able to implement a country wide programme setting up nutrition centres, rural improvement clubs and recruiting and training Agricultural workers – this programme led to sharp decreases in wasting and once this was taken care of, the programme came to an end in 1986, followed by changing focus of successive governments. The focus shifted from nutrition to hunger mitigation and the NNC was unable to capitalise on the devolution process in the country which allowed the Local Governing Units (LGUs) to prioritise development needs based on their own context. However, with the country not reaching major targets in the two six year (2005-2010 and 2011-2016) Philippine Plans of Action for Nutrition and the food and nutrition security goals of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) there was a renewed focus brought to the alarming status of malnutrition in the country which resulted in the formulation of the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2022 which is an integral part of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.

With this brief account of the 30 year history in relation to nutrition, let me present some stand out points from the visit which left us convinced that this country will offer a different perspective on multisectoral nutrition programmes from the other countries already studied.

 

 

In my role as the KM specialist, I will be going back in August to conduct the field work for this case study in two locations which have processes in place pointing to successful impacts over time. One of the sites will be urban, keeping in mind the opportunity that a rapidly urbanising country offers with what seems to be a fairly well organised health and other governance systems in place. As we choose the sites, we will be guided by the rich conversations with stakeholders across the board this week and in particular, the priorities of the National Nutrition Council.

A country hitherto known to me only for the Magsaysay Prize – many of its recipients being Indians (one of them my favourite musician), I was glad to meet the people and understand more about this country and look forward to going back again soon for the field work. Watch this space.

 

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