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Nutrition in political party manifesto

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About the author: William Chilufya is a civil society advocate for good nutrition and Country Coordinator for Zambia Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN).
This article was originally published by the Daily Mail

WilliamIf you are in advocacy work like me, then 2016 is a year in which you are most probably preoccupied with ideas of how to get your issues well addressed by political players. You could also be thinking of how to propel your matter at the top of the development agenda of political parties. You are not alone. I am particularly looking for a home for nutrition in all political parties. This is because nutrition is about saving lives and having healthy voters. Therefore, it needs to get the attention it deserves in all political parties. Nutrition has to be at the centre of all political parties’ vibe.
The Global Nutrition report (GNR) 2015’s African Brief gives great insights and encouragement to apply more concentration on nutrition development. It highlights that good nutrition provides a vital foundation for human development that is central to meeting our full potential.

When the nutrition status improves, it leads to a host of positive outcomes for individuals and families. Improved nutrition in Zambia means many more children will live past the age of five, their growth will be less disrupted, and they will gain in height and weight. Also, and perhaps more importantly, their cognitive abilities will develop more fully, allowing them to learn more both within and outside of school. As a result of sufficient nourishment and a positive early environment, children are more likely to get better jobs and thereby contribute more to their society as well as suffer fewer illnesses as adults aging healthily and living longer.

We further learn from the GNR 2015 African brief that the opposite of good nutrition,  “bad” nutrition, takes many forms. These range from children and adults who are undernourished and emaciated, children so stunted they look half their age, people who cannot fight infection because their diets lack nutrients, people who are more likely to suffer from strokes because they are obese, to people whose blood vessels collapse because they have diabetes. These multiple forms of malnutrition have common causes: poor-quality diets, weak care for mothers and children, insufficient access to health services, and unsanitary or unhealthy environments.

Despite the incentives to overcome malnutrition, it remains a problem of staggering size worldwide, with almost one in three people on the planet experiencing it. There is a considered view that most of the energy devoted to addressing undernutrition has largely been focused on technical solutions, and yet combatting malnutrition in all of its complexity will require an array of actions, including how politics/politicians take nutrition. This brings me to the question, how can we have political parties effectively contribute to nutrition development? we know for sure that each political party is a government in waiting.

The level of attention a political party pays to nutrition would give you an idea of how nutrition will be positioned when they form government. In another way, nutrition progress at the time of governing the country depends on the position for nutrition in a party manifesto. Given this, I feel that political parties provide fertile ground for nutrition development and continuity in the implementation of nutrition interventions. To do this, political parties must ensure a clear nutrition agenda is enshrined in their party manifestos.

The good thing is that we are not far from getting political parties adequately involved in nutrition. I say so because today we hear a number of politicians across political parties raise their voices saying something about nutrition. This provides encouragements as these efforts go a long way in making nutrition popular. At the Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN), we note how special this year is in respect to the general elections – we see this as an opportunity to put nutrition on the political agenda of all political parties.

As a first step, CSO-SUN will contribute to making our political leaders have more information available on what can be done to improve nutrition and what would work best, in particular, share the quick and long-term benefits of nutrition development. We would like to see political parties to thoroughly and comprehensively include nutrition in the forthcoming elections. This is because efforts to address the challenge of malnutrition require resources and political will. Also, there are political dividends to be reaped by parties that prioritise nutrition because the entire population desires a Zambia where everyone has optimal nutrition status.

Resultantly, voters are more likely to be interested in a political party that exhibits a clear and realistically attainable agenda for nutrition. As shown earlier, malnutrition requires multiple efforts. This needs to start from recognising the importance of nutrition and include its agenda in all political parties’ manifestos so that citizens can have power to demand and hold the government accountable for all the promises made.

Furthermore, the government will in turn prioritise allocation of adequate resources toward implementing nutrition interventions as per the manifesto. Our dream is to have our elected leaders continue to promote nutrition initiatives linking policy efforts with the long-term political benefits of maintaining healthy voters.

At CSO-SUN we firmly believe that in the near future malnutrition will not be one of intractable problems we shall face provided it is well prioritised in planning and implementation. Today, the incentives to improve nutrition are strong, and determined Zambia can make rapid advances in malnutrition reduction.

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