The 8th African Nutritional Epidemiology Conference (ANEC VIII) organized by Food and Nutrition Society of Ethiopian (FONSE), African Nutrition Society (ANS) and Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) brought together more than five hundred nutrition scientists, policy makers, public health professionals, nutrition program implementers and students in the capital of Africa – Addis Ababa, to discuss Africa’s nutritional challenges and potential solutions to eradicating malnutrition. The five-day conference held October 1-5 at Capital Hotel under the theme “Multi-stakeholder nutrition actions in Africa: translating evidence into policies and programs for impact” covered a wide range of nutrition topics through presentations, panel discussions, and poster presentations. Some of the topics included: sharing of best practices around effective multisectoral actions in nutrition, multi-sectoral actions and bio-fortification in Africa, joint action on maternal, infant and young child feeding, sharing of Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement experience in improving nutrition; nutrition policies, politics and nutrition governance in Africa, partnerships for food security, safety and sustainability in Africa, among many more.
The first day of the conference started with a welcoming note from Dr. Sisay, Federal Ministry of Health in Ethiopia (FMoH), the Seqota Declaration Project Delivery Unit. Dr. Sisay emphasized the importance of African countries’ investment in nutrition as it is highly related to alleviating some of the disease burden in the continent. Mr. Girma Ashenafi, Advisor to the State Minister (program) from FMoH, reiterated the need for increased investment in nutrition by sharing the alarming findings from Ethiopia’s Cost of Hunger Study (2016) that showed losses of 55.5 billion (ETB) or 16% of GDP due to nutritional problems. Furthermore, he emphasized the important role platforms such as ANEC could play in discussing critical nutrition issues and strategies for resolving some of the nutritional problems on the African continent. Goodwill messages and keynote speeches delivered by delegates including Dr. Gerda Verburg, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Coordinator of the Global SUN movement, highlighted the following key messages:
- Importance of investing in human growth and nutrition as a driver of economic growth and to sustain economic growth.
- Political ownership and leadership are critical and are significant contributors to addressing the nutrition challenges of the continent.
- Political commitment can be created and strengthened over time through strategic actions.
- Institutionalized gender equality and empowerment is critical in ensuring sustainability of nutrition programs.
- Importance of investing in girls’ education.
- Importance of involving finance representatives in the policy discussion around nutrition.
In the parallel session, the Growth through Nutrition Project had the opportunity to share key research findings from the multisectoral coordination study conducted by Tufts University (one of the project implementing partners). Mr. Sibhatu Biadiglign, Research Manager for Tufts University, highlighted some of the key challenges including operational issues and lack of adequate collaboration among the different implementing sectors, and called for stronger leadership as a potential solution for strengthening of the National Nutrition Program II (NNPII) in Ethiopia.
The second day covered topics on nutrition policies, politics and nutrition governance, and food-related data in the diet-disease relationship. In the morning session, Ms. Israel Hailu, Deputy Chief of Party for Growth through Nutrition Activity, delivered a presentation under the topic “Why is it Important to Champion Nutrition?” In the first part of her presentation, Ms. Hailu highlighted the value of developing a nutrition champion engagement plan to ensure strategic, long‐term engagement, and support and sustain nutrition champions to ensure continued building and sustaining of political commitment for nutrition in SUN countries. In the second part of the presentation, Israel shared the Ethiopia Civil Society Coalition for Scale Up of Nutrition (ECSC-SUN’s) experience in identifying and supporting Nutrition Champions in Ethiopia, such as the former First Lady Roman Tesfaye, who won the SUN Champions AWARD in 2017, and others’ prominent roles in advancing nutrition agendas at global, national and regional levels.
The third day of the conference continued with presentations on nutrition information, literacy interventions, and vulnerability, as well as trending issues in nutrition and human biology. Prof. Andrew Prentice, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine shared the disappointing results from SHINE WASH intervention trials conducted in Zimbabwe that showed WASH interventions i.e. Improved latrine use, handwashing stations at community level, protecting child from feces and soil ingestion using play space, and water treatment (water guard delivery) having no significant effect in reducing stunting, confirming the same results from the previous WASH Benefit studies conducted in Bangladesh and Kenya. In response to a question by Daniel Abbott, Chief of Party for Growth through Nutrition Activity, regarding the take away messages from SHINE results that are important for nutrition program implementers with a WASH component, Prof. Prentice responded “considering the multitude of issues contributing to the complexity of stunting, it is unrealistic to think the tradition WASH interventions mentioned above could bring a drastic solution to stunting, however, bringing clean water (tap water) in the rural households could be one of the critical elements contributing to reduction in stunting”. He also emphasized the importance of having patience as all partners galvanize their efforts and resources and work toward the long-term goal of eradicating all forms of malnutrition.
The fourth day of the conference continued with additional presentations, panel discussions and poster presentation. The fifth and final day was composed of capacity building sessions.
The following posters were presented from the Growth through Nutrition Project during the conference:
- Improving Diet Diversity, Quality, and Equality: A Policy Brief on Diet Patterns in Ethiopia by Tufts University
- Are New Agriculture Graduates Ready to Support Implementation of Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture Strategy? The Case of Ethiopian Higher Education” by Jhpiego
Developed by Rahel Gizaw
Senior Learning Advisor Growth through Nutrition