It’s Time for the Global Nutrition Sector to Finally Act

Comments by ECF's CEO on the recent UN Agency Call to Action around COVID-19's impacts on malnutrition

The Eleanor Crook Foundation’s CEO, Will Moore, recently responded to the UN Agencies’ recent Call to Action: “Child Malnutrition and COVID-19: The Time to Act is Now,” which outlined five key nutrition actions and the need to mobilize $2.4 billion to address malnutrition in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

While recognizing the Call to Action as a critical step, Will calls for faster progress — including development of a roadmap for scaling up the most essential package of nutrition services, and an advocacy and fundraising plan to raise the needed $2.4 billion.

Before the world ever heard of the novel coronavirus, malnutrition was already a crisis, causing nearly half of all child deaths worldwide and limiting the physical and cognitive development of nearly one in three people on earth.

Then came 2020.

Impacts of COVID-19 on Malnutrition

From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, it was clear the global shutdown of health, food, social protection, and economic systems would lead to major spikes in malnutrition. Experts anticipate the biggest toll on the world’s poor will not come from the virus, but from these correlated disruptions. An April 2020 model from Johns Hopkins University showed that the deadliest form of malnutrition, wasting, will likely be the leading cause of COVID-related child mortality over the next year. Three million children die from malnutrition in a “good year”. That number is all but certain to increase in 2020 and beyond. Survivors will experience irreversible impact on their long-term health and development, potentially creating another “lost generation” of malnourished children who will carry the legacy of this pandemic with them forever.

Despite this bleak outlook, we have scalable solutions at hand. With investment and ingenuity, we can deploy cost-effective nutrition solutions to protect the most vulnerable from tragic outcomes. While other sectors mobilized as early as April to release fundraising and action plans to adapt and scale essential programming, the nutrition sector has been exasperatingly slow to do the same.

A First Step Toward Global Action

This week, nearly eight months after the start of COVID-19, our sector took the first collective step to spur action against malnutrition amidst this crisis. Executive Directors of four UN agencies issued a Call to Action: “Child Malnutrition and COVID-19: The Time to Act is Now,” outlining four priority interventions, five key nutrition actions, and the need to mobilize at least $2.4 billion to “protect children’s right to nutrition in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The world has been called to act, but we still don’t have a specific plan to activate. A $2.4 billion funding appeal will not fundraise itself — we need a pledging moment and designated leadership to ensure resources materialize. Moreover, if we can secure these funds, they will mean nothing unless we have ready an implementation plan prioritizing the right populations and most cost-effective and immediately scalable interventions.

Urgently Required Next Steps

All nutrition stakeholders must now push for swift development of a roadmap and fundraising framework that builds on this Call to Action. Millions of people without lifesaving services today cannot afford to wait another eight months — or worse, have these actions never materialize at all.

In order to realize the Call to Action’s goals, we believe two steps are immediately needed:

First, we urge the Call to Action signatories to develop a robust resource mobilization plan, including hosting a pledging conference in September 2020 to raise the $2.4 billion. Simultaneously, advocates should rapidly develop a cost-sharing analysis and outreach strategy to secure financial commitments from diverse stakeholders. Major donors and governments in high burden countries should include nutrition as a key component of COVID-19 response funding. Dedicated, publicly visible support from UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore will be required to make this effort successful.

Second, the nutrition sector has to focus. We applaud the Call to Action for beginning to broadly identify priority interventions. We agree on scaling a selective, cost-effective, and feasible package of interventions, including the Power 4. Though ready-to-scale, life-saving nutrition interventions have existed for years, they are still not widely implemented. The Call to Action alludes to the Power 4, but we need more than aspirational statements. We need a shared plan for where and how to scale-up these solutions. As the lead UN Agency on nutrition, UNICEF should quickly develop and oversee such a plan.

Although sustained UN leadership is critical to actualize the Call to Action, stakeholders across the nutrition sector should not wait for it to begin driving action on fundraising and scale-up. Responsibility falls on each of us to build collective momentum, sound the alarm about rises in malnutrition, highlight the Call to Action, demand a roadmap and fundraising plan, and channel the urgency which the current situation demands.

For our part, the Eleanor Crook Foundation is revitalizing our efforts to drive progress amidst this pandemic. We will convene partners to mobilize around the $2.4 billion funding appeal and help support a pledging moment. Given spikes in wasting are anticipated to be the largest driver of COVID-related child deaths, we are exploring over $30 million in grants to UNICEF and other partners to achieve a major scale up of improved wasting treatment, arguably the most important investment needed now to save lives. We remain committed to making available grant funds for partners who have bold and creative ideas about how to drive action at this crucial moment.

Looking Forward

We believe it has taken the community too long to get here, to issue a Call to Action which is really just a starting point — a broad statement of need. Now comes the hard part: driving fundraising and action on a massive scale. Doing so will require us to be faster, smarter, innovative and more focused from this point forward. With every day that passes, we are risking lives and falling short in supporting comrades on the frontlines who are desperately trying to adapt services and keep children healthy and alive. If we need $2.4 billion to get the job done, let’s raise it swiftly and deploy it effectively, so we can look back and know we did all that we could.

We anticipate some may call into question our choice to publicly levy what could be viewed as criticism at this defining moment. Our goal is not to stifle momentum, but to take honest stock of progress to-date and what is needed now to achieve the results that the Call to Action brings into focus. These suggestions are only the start of what needs to be an inclusive, transparent, and urgent conversation to inspire forward movement. The time has come to accelerate what has been a slow start, so we can change the outcome for the children who deserve a fair shot in the face of this pandemic. With this call, let’s really act, by developing a focused plan, mobilizing funds, and holding one another to account.

Learn More About ECF’s Strategy

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