Rhaydz B. Barcia (Rappler)
‘We are at a crossroads where decision and actions must be made that will have an impact on our children and the children of the future,’ says Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial
ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial has called on local governments to take an active role in stopping the malnutrition time bomb in the country.
Ubial rang the alarm bells on the problem at the launch of the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2022, which she called the country’s “bible for health and nutrition,” on Tuesday, May 2.
“I hope that the nutrition program in our country and the efforts that we do will not remain silent and invisible. This is the challenge that we all must take. Let us stop the stunting bomb before it blows in our face. Let us work together to prevent malnutrition for our children, our people, and our country,” the health secretary said.
The health chief said that the Philippines ranks first in Southeast Asia in terms of the prevalence childhood stunting, which is already costing the country P328 billion a year in losses on education and workforce productivity.
“Stunting children in Philippines is one of the highest with 40.2% in Southeast Asia and this is very embarrassing. We have to ring the bells specifically to local government units whose priority programs are mostly infrastructure, neglecting nutrition,” Ubial said.
She stressed the need to address the problem soonest. “In 15 to 20 years from now, these stunted children, if they survived, will enter the workforce and instead of driving the engine of the economy, will become the burden of society. And because malnutrition permeates into the next generation the cycle continues.”
Based on the 2015 National Nutrition Survey of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), 3.8 million children or 33.4% are stunted while 807,057 or 7.1% are considered wasted in the Philippines. (READ: 2015 global index: PH hunger, malnutrition problem ‘serious’)
The Philippines would remain in the quagmire of poverty if the problem is not addressed properly, Ubial said.
“We are therefore at a crossroads where decision and actions must be made that will have an impact on our children and the children of the future,” she said.
Ubial said the launch of the new PPAN “marks turning point for the next generation of Filipinos and the generations to come.”
“We launch the driving force that will either make or break the future of the next generation of Filipinos….This is our bible for health and nutrition,” she said.
Under the PPAN, the “ambitious” target is to reduce stunting from the current 33.4% to 21%.
The PPAN, which is anchored on the Philippine Development Plan, is the country’s contribution to the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 2 which is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
Ubial said PPAN 2017-2022 also aims to support the World Health Assembly Global Targets to improve maternal, infant, and young child nutrition by 2025.
As key to achieving improvements in nutritional outcomes, PPAN’s strategic thrusts are the first 1,000 days in life, complementation of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programs, intensified mobilization of LGUs, and reaching geographically isolated and disadvantages areas (GIDAs) and communities of indigenous peoples.
The new PPAN features 8 nutrition-specific programs devised to address the immediate causes of malnutrition: inadequate food and nutrient intake, poor care-giving and parenting practices, and infectious diseases.
This will be complemented by nutrition-sensitive programs already existing in developmental programs that can be tweaked to produce nutritional outcomes. These programs, according to Ubial, will be done through the intensive mobilization of LGUs and will involve capacity-building and mentoring on nutrition program management.