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THE World Bank Group announced it has approved a new loan to finance the Philippine government’s programs to combat malnutrition nationwide.

The country received a $178.1 million worth loan from the Washington-based lender to finance the “Philippines Multisectoral Nutrition” project that aims to reduce stunting.

The World Bank said stunting is a prolonged nutritional deficiency among infants and young children and has been prevalent in 235 municipalities nationwide. A third of Filipino children are stunted.

“The persistence of high levels of childhood under-nutrition in the Philippines, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, could lead to a significant increase in inequality of opportunities in the country,” Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, said.

The loan will finance a package of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions across the various local government (LGU) platforms together with a social behavior change and communications interventions.

Nutrition interventions

THE World Bank said households with pregnant women and children under two years will benefit from high-impact nutrition interventions including infant and young feeding, regular growth monitoring and multiple micronutrient supplements for children 6–23 months.

Through the project, the government will be able to provide iron-folic acid supplementation for pregnant women, vitamin A supplementation for children, dietary supplementation for nutritionally-at-risk pregnant women and treatment of moderate and severe acute malnutrition.

“Where healthy children can do well in school and look forward to a prosperous future, stunted children tend to be sickly, learn less, more likely to drop out of school and their economic productivity as adults can be clipped by more than 10 percent in their lifetime,” Diop said. “Hence, improving the nutritional status of children is key to the country’s goals of boosting human capital while strengthening the country’s economic recovery and prospects for long-term growth.”

Anchored in the Department of Health’s Universal Health Coverage initiative, the project will also provide performance-based grants to local government units, linked to delivery of pre-defined nutrition and maternal and child services.

The World Bank said improvements in local level planning and budgeting for nutrition projects to encourage implementation of these nutrition interventions through the country’s primary health care system.

First 1,000 days

INFORMED by a wealth of evidence and experiences across the world, the East Asia region and the Philippines, these interventions focus on the first 1,000 days of life—from conception through pregnancy and birth, the newborn period, infancy and transition to primary school—a critical period of children’s development, according to Nkosinathi Mbuya, World Bank Senior Nutrition Specialist, East Asia and Pacific Region.

“Undernutrition and exposure to risks and adversities during the first 1,000 days of the child’s life can disrupt cognitive, emotional and physical development and hold children back from reaching their full potential, thus affecting the formation of the country’s human capital,” Mbuya said. “Therefore, interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child-bearing age.”

Such adversities and risks include poverty; malnutrition; lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities; lack of nurturing care and stimulation; high levels of family stress; exposure to conflict, violence, child abuse, or neglect; and lack of access to quality health, nutrition and education services.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to exacerbate the food and nutrition security of vulnerable Filipino households. Globally, food prices, already on the rise since the second half of 2020, have reached an all-time high in February 2022, leading to food security problems around the world.

These events indicate that unless immediate action is taken, millions of Filipino children will face the increased risk of under-nutrition and likely suffer the consequences of poor school performance and low adult productivity.