“Good nutrition during the first 1000 days is the wisest investment during the whole life of a human being”

Prof. Dr. Geeta Bhakta Joshi* — SUN Movement Nutrition Champion 2017

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What first inspired you to champion nutrition and where do you continue to draw your inspiration from?

Even though Nepal has made significant progress in reducing stunting in children under 5 years, from 57% in 2001 to 35.8% in 2016, these figures are still high in comparison to other countries.

Good nutrition in women and children is a prerequisite for reducing child mortality, improving morbidity and remaining healthy, including better education and other social development outcomes. It is therefore a prerequisite for human capital development. Good nutrition during the first 1000 days is the wisest investment during the whole life of a human being.

Nepal aspires to graduate from being a Least Developed Country by 2022, to do so, improvements in nutrition is one of the requirements. If Nepal is to reap the dividends due to Demographic Transition in next 30 years, Nepal must invest in human capital development and reducing malnutrition, focusing on children under five years of age and adolescents.

The Government of Nepal has made commitments to improve nutrition in many national plans, policies as well as in international platforms. Therefore, Nutrition has remained priority for me and inspired me to be a champion.

What do you consider having been your greatest challenge, and your greatest achievement in your career?

The Multi Sector Nutrition Plan (2013–2017) has been scaled-up and the annual expenditure for nutrition has more than doubled from USD 49.7 million in 2013/14 to USD 166.54 million in 2016/17. The Government has launched a second phase of the plan for 2018 to 2022, which is a continuation of MSNP (2013–2017). This followed a result-based, evidenced, informed, strategic and collaborative processes and workshops, leading to development of a results framework for the relevant sectors. The plan was endorsed and approved by the council of ministers. The launching was a milestone event, with excellent participation and commitments from all ministries, key donors and development partners. This endorsement marks as a strong commitment by the Government of Nepal to improve nutrition status of women and children through a multi-sector approach.

The greatest challenges have been, how to maintain the necessary and effective coordination between and across government and non-government sectors.

In 2018, how do you plan to keep bringing attention to nutrition in your country?

As Nepal is moving towards federal re-structuring and devolution, one of the priorities is to institutionalize/sustain all the achievements made so far. There is a need to scale up the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan II throughout the country, to achieve the World Health Assembly targets 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, so that malnutrition is no longer a public health problem in Nepal. Over the years we have realized that there is a lack of nutrition budget code in Nepal. Therefore, to develop a separate nutrition budget code within the system is a priority for the next year. Considering nutrition as a sector and Joint Annual Review (JAR) of Nutrition sector is also amongst our priorities.

At a regional level we need to further strengthen cross learning and collaboration in Nutrition through South to South and regional collaboration in South Asia.

What would you like to see happen with regards to improving nutrition, both in Nepal and globally?

  • A national body which is above the sector ministries is necessary to take lead in planning, coordination and monitoring.
  • Both the Government as well as Donors and development partners need to increase investment in nutrition as well as periodically track nutrition financing.
  • The good national plans need to be translated into better actions, therefore, the focus should be effective implementation of nutrition specific and sensitive actions.
  • The focus on 1000 days needs to be continued, without neglecting to cover the life-cycle approach.
  • The Nutrition capacity, both individual as well as institutional, need to be increased.

*Hon. Prof. Dr. Geeta Bhakta Joshi (Nepal) is Member of the National Planning Commission in Nepal. Prof. Joshi led the process of including nutrition as a key component of Nepal’s 14th National Periodic Plan (2016–2018) and led the formulation of the Multi-sector Nutrition Plan II (MSNP 2018–2022).