The global development architecture sometimes feels like a factory of missed opportunities.
Many development endeavours are less effective than they should be because they are siloed by competitive institutional mandates, donor preferences or sectoral boundaries – rather than driven by the best interests and needs of the people they are meant to serve. When this happens, we miss opportunities to improve people’s lives – especially children, adolescent girls, and women.
What would it look like if we truly put people and their needs at the center and worked back from there? While it’s hard to be all things to all people at the same time, there is a lot more we could be doing to identify and address missed opportunities in a way that adds value for people. Nutrition International seeks to bridge some of these gaps by welding nutrition into other platforms and sectors where it is missing and needed.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is one of these areas that has close links to nutrition. While malnutrition affects 1 out of every 3 people on the planet in some form or another, for social, biological, and cultural reasons, its impacts are particularly heavy on girls and women. Anemia alone affects over 600 million women globally between the ages of 15 and 49, the exact same people that would benefit from improved access to SRHR services.
Lack of access to SRHR services can have a significant impact on the nutritional status and overall health of women and girls. For example – every year approximately 17 million adolescent girls, mostly from low- and middle-income countries, become pregnant. This is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of stillbirth and neonatal deaths, greater risk of preterm birth and low birth weight babies, and greater risk of maternal complications compared to older mothers. Girls who are born small, and later become mothers, are more likely to give birth to smaller infants themselves. Women who are unable to space out births and replenish their bodies between pregnancies are at greater health risk – and their babies have a higher risk of being stunted in childhood. Increasing access to SRHR services is therefore an essential factor in breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.
Similarly, well-nourished women are healthier and have stronger children with improved brain development. Well-nourished adolescents are more likely to stay in school and increase their ability to get better paying jobs. A well-nourished, healthy and educated population builds a country’s capacity to contribute its own resources towards essential services such as quality education and improved health care. Implementing nutrition programs targeting adolescents can also help to foster a dialogue with community leaders, health workers, educators, parents and adolescents themselves on more sensitive issues such as SRHR, which may have otherwise not been openly discussed.
Delivered alone, in isolation, neither nutrition nor SRHR interventions will allow us to reach the development goals the global community has set for itself. However, if we combine our efforts, we can begin to move the needle. This is why Nutrition International, over the coming years, will be looking to partner with organizations delivering SRHR interventions to integrate nutrition into their existing programs and initiatives.
We believe that all girls and women, no matter where they are in the world, should have the right to make decisions about their own bodies – and to have the information and access they need to live those choices. By adding nutrition interventions to the SRHR interventions already being delivered, we will help to close the missed opportunities gap and improve the health and well-being of adolescent girls and women.
A better world is possible but to build it we need to fundamentally change the way we approach development. We need to break down silos, disrupt the status quo, and focus more on reaching people with interventions that work. Most importantly, we need to put the people we serve – and all the challenges they face – at the center of our approach.