“Malnutrition is caused by multiple social problems, diversified action will be the driver behind successful advocacy”
Feno Velotahiana* — SUN Movement Nutrition Champion 2017
What first inspired you to champion nutrition and where do you continue to draw your inspiration from?
I am committed to making the stifled voices of those weakened by malnutrition heard, loud and clear. Who are these people? They are the pregnant mothers who cannot feed the baby at their breast. Children under the age of 12, whose bodies already bear the irreversible scars of malnutrition. Sick adults and emaciated old people, shrunken through lack of food and malnutrition. Finally, skeletal livestock, no longer capable of supporting their own weight. The scourge of malnutrition has irreversible consequences for children (stunted growth, cognitive impairment) and, indeed, for the socioeconomic development of our country. Overcoming malnutrition is a priority. It is closely linked to combating poverty. It is the raison d’être for the actions and efforts we are making to ensure increased and improved productivity, particularly with regards to food. I am more committed than ever to making this a national and international priority: conducting concrete activities such as awareness raising within communities, calling on government and non-government bodies to lobby for this at the highest international level.
What do you consider having been your greatest challenge, and your greatest achievement in your career?
The nutrition champions network in Madagascar adopted an advocacy policy aimed at raising the profile of nutrition, on TV, radio and social media, with first-hand witness reports from vulnerable communities. The Minister of Public Health took note and, after round table discussions with journalists and champions during Women’s and Children’s Health Week in the South-West region, he announced that increasing the nutrition budget within his ministry would be a priority. This strategy has resulted in the community noting visible changes at decision-making level and has reinforced the strength and pride of the champions. This commitment to such voluntary work, which resulted in my being appointed a champion, is both my greatest success and my greatest challenge: “To improve human resources for health and increase the budget for nutrition within the ministries, to the benefit of the population.”
In 2018, how do you plan to keep bringing attention to nutrition in your country?
I plan to have better awareness raising through the women’s organisations, as a way to “train trainers,” by making known the key points of the 1,000 Days concept. Sharing of such knowledge will positively affect behaviour change. I will ensure mass awareness raising (TV and radio broadcasts, other major initiatives) on the impacts of malnutrition and its causes to back up the training provided to the target beneficiaries.
My priorities will also include;
· Involving primary schools in learning about the importance of nutrition and how to easily combat the malnutrition that affects children’s growth.
· Raising awareness and educating teenagers and parents on appropriate nutrition.
· Promoting good nutrition and hygiene practices.
My plans are to do this, by working with multisectoral actors to implement awareness raising training within the communities, on the concept of malnutrition and its indicators and to Instigate mass regional and national campaigns. I encourage support for target beneficiaries in relation to production and the health of their families, while extending the network and involving all actors working to overcome chronic failures. This will be combined with raising awareness and training communities to diversify their production to more nutrient rich crops, added to improving the processing, storage and conservation of different products: transformation and conservation.
As a Nutrition Champion, your work benefits your country and serves as inspiration to others. What is your call to action to all nutrition advocates?
It is important to establish a multisectoral platform to facilitate exchanges between different actors. Malnutrition is caused by multiple social problems; diversified action will be the driver behind successful advocacy of all stakeholders. We need to develop behaviour change communication and strengthen nutrition education among target populations.
Promoting women’s empowerment also needs to be considered, both at home, at work and elsewhere. This will contribute to society’s improved nutrition.
Establish a workplace structure that will enable women to continue exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of six months. Companies should also consider enabling women to continue breastfeeding beyond six months.
*Feno Velotahiana is the President of the Media Network for Nutrition, which spearheads mass awareness around fighting malnutrition in Madagascar. Thanks to her commitment and that of the members of the network, nutrition is finding its place in the Malagasy media (TV, radio, press) and on the political agenda. The exposure provided by the media network on the issues of malnutrition has resulted in the commitment of the Minister of Health in putting the implementation of the National Action Plan for the Development of HR Health (PNDRHS) on the political agenda. The Malagasy Prime Minister pledged to increase the budget allocation for nutrition.