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East African Regional Leaders Must Commit to Work Together to Defeat Malnutrition

This blog was co-authored by the following Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society leads from across East Africa. Share the blog on Twitter using the hashtags #Nutrition4Growth & #NourishEastAfrica

  • Manaan Mumma, Kenya SUN Civil Society Alliance (Kenya SUN CSA) 
  • Grace Gitau, Kenya SUN Civil Society Alliance (Kenya SUN CSA)
  • Tumaini Mikindo, PANITA; Tanzania SUN Civil Society Network
  • Aristide Madagasha, SUN Civil Society Alliance Burundi
  • Butera John R. Mugabe, SFH-SUN Civil Society Alliance Rwanda
  • Christine Muyama, Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Scaling Up Nutrition (UCCO-SUN)
  • Million Shibeshi, Ethiopia Civil Society Coalition for Scaling Up Nutrition (ECSC-SUN)

Imagine the last time you saw a group of energetic children playing a game of football. You heard them laugh and yell to pass the ball. You heard jokes being told and wondered how so much energy could possibly fit in one space at one time. Now imagine that half of those children are no longer able to keep up. They lack the strength to run alongside others, or the focus to do their best in the classroom. Malnutrition is to blame, this manifests in chronic malnutrition, commonly known as stunting (being too short for the child’s age). The damage is irreversible. The many centimeters of height, bits of strong muscle, and most of all vital connections and developments in the brain are never regained. They are lost forever. And for each time this happens, it is a tragedy for a child, family, and the nation at large. 

For one in four children in the world, and up to one in two children in East African countries, chronic malnutrition will lead to permanent stunting of their brains and bodies.

Looking to change this unacceptable reality, Scaling Up Nutrition Civil society advocates from six East African countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia) joined with government, UN representatives, donors, private sector, and media on Friday, 29 May 2015 for a regional launch of the Global Nutrition Report 2014 and to chart a way forward together to fight malnutrition. We are the representatives of the most affected persons in the community —and we are here to raise the alarm on the chronic emergency of malnutrition on our countries. We ask for the attention of our leaders, our communities, and our families. Now is the time to act.

With its far reaching consequences on societal and economic development, nutrition can no longer be buried under the pile of political priorities. To ensure economic growth and to build more equal societies, it’s time to take a lead on nutrition, to put it upfront in our priorities—and to do it together. Our children have a right to a world where malnutrition is nothing but a story to them. Our mothers demand it. Our children need it, and it is their right.

Most East African countries are currently off track to meet globally-agreed 2025 nutrition targets. We insist that regional governments must commit to and translate their commitments into actions, and increase funding to nutrition. Evidences suggest that an investment in nutrition results in a 16 fold return, providing a strong base for pro-development national investment. Sectors impacting nutrition – such as education, agriculture, water and sanitation, and gender – must reflect explicit nutrition objectives in their policies and strategies. We can’t wait any longer to do this work together.

Our Governments have a choice:  to lose valuable revenue to fighting the disease burden caused by under-nutrition, or to benefit from the increased revenue that comes from a healthy and productive workforce. It’s not a difficult choice.

The upcoming second Nutrition For Growth Summit in June 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will be a key moment for East African countries to make new and a follow up to the 2013 N4G Summit smart political and financial commitments to nutrition – to protect children today, to build sustainable economies, and to give communities, families, and children worldwide the chance to survive and thrive to their fullest.

As Civil Society, we pledge to step up our commitment to achieve shared global nutrition targets by 2025; we look forward to building momentum towards nutrition. We call on our governments to come to the table with new funding for nutrition and encourage other leaders to do the same. There is no time to waste. Our children deserve to grow up healthy and to fulfill their dreams.