Malnutrition cases in the Philippines

MIDSAYAP, PHILIPPINES –Against the backdrop of poverty, the problem on malnutrition persists across the Philippines.

Argie Borbon, at 7 months, weighed barely 4.6 kilos and 54 centimetres tall, only a few grams heavier than an average new-born baby. The Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) indicates severe acute malnutrition at 10.8 millimetre, which is deadly if left untreated. That’s the state of baby Borbon when he arrived at the Outpatient Therapeutic Program setup in the rural health unit in this southern township of Midsayap, North Cotabato of Mindanao.

In today’s world of wealth and material plenty, international humanitarian agencies, including the ACF International (Action Contre la Faim or Action Against Hunger), a global humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger and a recognized leader in the fight against hunger, considers it an outrage that 52 million children under the age of five still suffer from acute malnutrition. Every year, the severest form of acute malnutrition causes the death of an estimated a million children, mainly in developing regions of Africa and Asia, including the Philippines.

Baby Borbon was among them. But barely two weeks after his arrival, baby Borbon was already faring well. He smiles with ease, full of life as his guardian cradles him.

“I just wanted him to be healthy again and see his strong appetite for food,” her mother Baidido said.

As the Philippines population is projected at 97.6 million, 13.5% of which are children under five, 7.3% or nearly a million of these children are acutely malnourished. Prevalence of wasting has risen for children under five years from 6% in 2003 to 7.3% in 2011, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute reported. If not properly managed, children with severe acute malnutrition (estimated at 2.5% of children under five or 329,400) are 9.4 times more likely to die compared to normal children. Under the World Health Organization’s threshold for global acute malnutrition, the Philippines’ rate of 7.3% for children under five years is considered poor, and the rate of 11.9% for children 6-11 months serious. But if properly managed, case fatality will decrease by 55%.

At the same time, the present economic situation of the country further aggravates the malnutrition problem with about 28 million Filipinos unable to buy food to meet their nutritional requirements and other basic needs. While it was reported that the health status of Filipinos improved in terms of the decrease in the mortality rates of mothers and infants, the rising incidence of infectious diseases such as diarrhea and respiratory diseases contributed to the poor nutritional status of many Filipinos.

A world without hunger is a world where everyone is nutrition secure, not just food secure.

From New York to Spain, London to Kenya, Paris to the Philippines, people from around the world are uniting their voices and calling for an end to needless child deaths from acute malnutrition.

In the southern Philippines where habitual natural disasters, an overreliance on rice and low levels of breastfeeding occurred, ACF is at the forefront of a global multi-stakeholders movement aimed at improving maternal and child nutrition called Scaling up Nutrition and follows the principles set in the Sun Framework for Action. The Framework underline the importance of the 1000 days between the mother’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday. The right nutrition during this critical time is important in safeguarding children’s health’s potentials. Early interventions during this window of opportunity could mean a person would have all the potential to be what he dreams of or end a liability to his family and country.

To step up action from governments, humanitarian organizations with the Philippine Coalition of Advocates for Nutrition Security, a coalition of non-governmental organizations that calls for improved nutrition among vulnerable and marginalized populations, recently launch Generation Nutrition, a campaign whose overall goal is to stop young child deaths from acute malnutrition. The crusade is international in scope, involving engagement with the public, global decision-makers and governments across the globe.

The advocacy focuses on the progress by the international community and governments in the twin areas of treatment and prevention. On treatment, the key objective looks into the achievement of universal coverage for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM, and key to prevention is for governments to implement the measures needed to reduce the rates of acute malnutrition – for instance a national rate of acute malnutrition of below 5%.

In the last two years governments have stepped up their action on nutrition. The year 2012 saw the adoption at the World Health Assembly of a progressive series of global targets on nutrition and at the June 2013 Nutrition for Growth event donors committed additional aid for nutrition in the period up to 2020. Today, 43 developing countries, including the Philippines are now participating in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.
“In the Philippines, we are calling on the government to maintain this momentum – and, in particular, to do more to address acute malnutrition,” says Javad Amoozegar, country director of ACF International.

As 2014 plays a key year in the negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, the Generation Nutrition campaign will push for governments to adopt appropriate goals and targets for addressing both under-nutrition and wasting as part of any future deal.

“We are building recognition of the importance of tackling acute malnutrition as a key part of a country’s strategy to reduce child mortality,” says Amoozegar, adding they sees acute malnutrition as an everyday reality for millions of children around the world.

“And it doesn’t only happen because of conflict or natural disaster. In fact, most undernourished children suffering from acute malnutrition can be found in remote villages and bustling cities, and they are nearly a million in the Philippines. The silent killer of acute malnutrition is entirely predictable, preventable and treatable. A world where every child has enough nutritious food to live and thrive, where no child dies from hunger or for lack of simple treatments, is possible. All it needs is the political will to make it a reality. If we can make change the way they set their priorities, children’s lives will be saved,” Amoozegar cites.

“That’s why an urgently needed Generation Nutrition campaign is stepping up to act. We need to stand up for children facing deadly hunger. Child deaths from acute malnutrition could be ended in a generation. If we act now, we can end child deaths from acute malnutrition in a generation,” Amoozegar adds.

Rodrigo Duterte, a mayor in the country’s biggest city of Davao, admits it is a terrible thing to die hungry.

Duterte has signed an executive order integrating and operationalizing Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) protocol in the local health system. He also signed the 10-point action plan calling world leaders to prioritize tackling acute child malnutrition and to ensure that the post-2015 development framework that replaces the Millennium Development Goals prioritizes ending child deaths from hunger.

In last year’s 4th quarter survey on self-rated poverty and food poverty by the Social Weather Stations also showed that more Filipinos considered themselves hungry at the end of 2013 – around 41% or 8.8 million households considered themselves food poor.

But Zorahayda Taha, a senior official of Department of Social Welfare and Development, says the central government is addressing problems on malnutrition among Filipino children.

“We are currently implementing conditional cash transfer scheme similar to what have been done in Brazil and Mexico. We hope to curve the poverty as well the cases of malnutrition among children,” Taha says.

Under the CCT program, the government provides monthly subsidies to selected poor households. Beneficiaries are required to send their children to public schools, and to have the children and the mothers regularly visit public health centers. The objective of the program is to increase school participation rate of children of poor households and to improve health conditions. Mindanao Post

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