During the Spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, I sat down with Manaan Mumma, an advocate who is forging ahead in Kenya. Manaan works with the nonprofit Kenyan AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO), a partner of the global health advocacy partnership organization, ACTION. While KANCO works alongside civil society organizations on a variety of public health initiatives, Manaan specifically works on nutrition advocacy.
Manaan was in DC to speak with ACTION and other policymakers to let them know what the facts are on the ground, and why nutrition is so important for Kenya and the world.
Why is nutrition important for Kenya?
In Kenya, the situation has been really bad for the past three decades. There are 44 million people in [Kenya], but at any one time you find 10 million are food insecure. Nutrition doesn’t just affect the food insecure areas, but also the areas with plenty of rain and fertile soils.
How is KANCO trying to fix the problem of malnutrition?
We want to encourage food diversification based on people’s needs so people can eat beyond the staple food, [which is] corn. [KANCO] looks at ways to talk about nutrition particularly using a multi-sector approach addressing nutrition, education, agriculture, microfinance, child protection, etc. We realized that we can no longer just focus on nutrition as a health issue when it cuts across all other areas.
What sort of challenges do you experience in your advocacy?
People think good nutrition is synonymous with adequate food, but this is not the case, so we have to work hard to sensitize policymakers and make them understand why we have a need for nutrition policies and budget lines for nutrition.
Are there any success stories in nutrition that give you hope for the future?
There’s a voluntary center, Segera Mission Center, started by Rev. Carlton Gleason in Laikipia, a remote, arid, hard to reach area. The [area] doesn’t have water and there aren’t health facilities within almost a 300 km (186 mile) radius. He took it upon himself to provide education and open up a health facility and a nutrition center to provide.
There’s this child, his name is David. When he came in he was 3 years old and extremely malnourished. At 3 years he was weighing 6 kgs (13 pounds), which is seriously underweight. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk. All his developmental milestones were delayed. David is an orphan who lost both of his parents, [so] his grandmother was taking care of him. She decided to take him to the mission so they could care for him.
They [were able to help] put him on a feeding program for about a year. If you saw him at 3 and then at 5 walking and laughing and talking and running around you could see the difference. Now at 7, he is in school. He is a happy cheerful young man. His story is one that has stayed with me.
What can the Kenyan government do to ensure nutrition is addressed? Is there any support for nutrition coming from the government?
Kenya does not have nutrition budget lines. It has always been hidden under the health budget lines. So KANCO is trying to ensure that even at county level, county governments will factor in nutrition in their county development plans as part of the different sectors (education, agriculture etc.).
Many countries have fallen behind on all six of the nutrition targets agreed upon by the World Health Assembly in 2012. What do you think is needed to spur recommitment to nutrition and to get the ball rolling on achieving these targets by 2025?
When you think of [the fact] that one quarter of all children are stunted, you see that malnutrition is a global problem that cuts across every sector and every country, it’s not just an African problem. If this [issue] is not addressed now, if more money is not invested in nutrition, you don’t want to imagine what it will be 10-20 years from now because these are the same children we expect to get into schools. It’s one thing leading to another and it has to be addressed.
I think the Scaling Up Nutrition movement helps to keep countries on track and committed. [But we] need to bring different sectors together to talk about nutrition, share best practices and measure targets set for nutrition and following up on commitments to ensure action.
[Ultimately] people must agree to put in the money and the time and follow through with equal investments in funding. It will be good to start moving from policy to practice. How do we translate commitments to action?