“Let us learn from each other and inspire each other!”
Hon. Mr. Osmonbek Artykbaev* - SUN Movement Nutrition Champion 2017
What first inspired you to champion nutrition and where do you continue to draw your inspiration from?
I began to be closely involved in nutrition issues, especially flour fortification, in 2007 in my capacity as a Parliamentarian of the Third Convocation of Parliament. At that time, the dynamics of maternal and child mortality rates, as well as the health of the population in general, were particularly discouraging. Given that I am an engineer by profession, I had much to learn in relation to nutrition.
I was amazed at how simple rules can change and prolong human life. I learned that the human body is designed to function for 120–150 years, whilst the average life expectancy in Kyrgyzstan is 68–70 years. I was astonished when I learned that numerous diseases causing many deaths in Kyrgyzstan were due to unhealthy diets. Amongst my voters, there are people who have children with birth defects. These diseases have had a profound impact on the lives of entire families. I was also surprised how easily such birth defects can be prevented. This can be done with the help of 4 packages of folic acid for the total cost of USD 2.5.
The opportunity to prevent such diseases and hence potentially extend the life expectancy acts as a powerful inspiration for me. I travel a lot around the world and visit both developed and less developed countries. I try to learn the best practices and apply these in our country.
Our country Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful and mountainous country. It is unique — the only country in the region with a parliamentary system of Government. The role of the Parliament is significant, it forms the Government, approves the budget and controls the activities of the Government. Kyrgyzstan has adopted almost all nutrition laws; many direct nutrition interventions are being implemented. The country also possesses the necessary conditions for the realization of human rights. However, a systematic approach in all activities and understanding of the threats and consequences of malnutrition is required.
I have strong faith in the future of my country, I believe that the development of my country can be achieved through emphasis on the development of human capital. To see the results of our actions and the realization that our work improved the life of at least one child or family, and created conditions for the proper development of this child, is a source of inspiration for us.
Thanks to the SUN Movement, we have formed a wonderful team of like-minded people and we must continue to expand its ranks. I am inspired by the trust of my team, by our joint efforts and decision-making.
What do you consider having been your greatest challenge, and your greatest achievement in your career?
The main challenge was finding like-minded people. It is not easy to explain the dangers of the “hidden hunger.” The lack of obvious signs of threat to human life, which would ring the alarm bells and necessitate an immediate response, makes nutrition seem trivial and a minor issue, for some people.
I managed to convey to my colleagues in Parliament the significance of the problem of malnutrition and its consequences. It is crucial to ensure the number of people who comprehend the nutrition issues continues to increase amongst the population and amongst those with influence, until it reaches a critical mass. Today, the number of like-minded people continues to grow, and we have managed to create a team, consisting of representatives of various communities: civil society, academic, donor and business sectors and state officials. I am proud that I am surrounded by like-minded people and that we can all contribute to the common cause.
Comprehension of the problem from within and political commitment of government officials at every level– these are the necessary prerequisites for success. I consider our main achievement to be the adoption of nutrition laws (flour fortification, salt iodization, breastfeeding, etc.) and most importantly, their implementation on national and regional levels.
In 2018, how do you plan to keep bringing attention to nutrition in your country?
As members of parliament, we are also members of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, which unites us as like-minded people. Through this platform, I plan to promote nutrition issues and push for the creation of an environment that is supportive of effective nutrition policies and which encourages interaction on regional level, especially amongst neighboring countries.
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?
Today we are at a critical juncture, whereby we now have significantly more data on the impact of nutrition on our lives than we ever did before.
Much work remains to be done to address the issues in nutrition. Nutrition challenges may seem akin to a huge and insurmountable mountain. However, if we make a joint effort and act in a coordinated manner, then we can break it down into small pieces and level it with the ground. It is vital to bear in mind the enormous magnitude of the challenge we are addressing, and the influence it will have on all our lives.
I urge you to work together. Together we can do much more! Let us learn from each other and inspire each other! Let us share our achievements and failures. Let us develop joint mechanisms, but recognize the specifics and uniqueness of each country! This is a difficult, long, but a very rewarding mission– to see the results of our work contribute to the development of our countries!
*Hon. Mr. Osmonbek Artykbaev, Member of Parliament from the Kyrgyz Republic and Chair of the National Committee of Kyrgyzstan on Population and Development. He has made exceptional contributions to scale up nutrition in Kyrgyzstan. He introduced nutrition issues onto the agenda of the Parliament and brought together parliamentarians, civil organisations, mass media and other stakeholders to address malnutrition.