Highlights from the first Central Asia regional summit on micronutrient fortification

The Government of Kazakhstan, USAID and GAIN just co-hosted the first Central Asia regional summit on micronutrient fortification, ‘Fortify our Future: Regional summit for improving the health of women and children through flour fortification’ from 3-4 April in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The event was co-convened with the Food Fortification Initiative, International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, the World Food Programme, Nutrition International (formerly Micronutrient Initiative), UNICEF and the Copenhagen Consensus. Six official country delegations from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan comprising approximately 130 senior policy makers and industry leaders attended including members of parliament, federal ministers and CEOs.

The event was organized because there is critical work to be done to ensure that all countries in the region – which has one of the highest per capita flour consumption rates in the world as well as high levels of anaemia and rates of preventable neural tube defects – fortify their flour with iron and folic acid.

The first key message was that flour fortification can achieve tremendous impact at low cost and is highly relevant for each country in attendance. The latest evidence on impact as well as cost effectiveness was presented on day 1 by Dr Alasfoor (MOH, Oman) and Dr Lomborg (Copenhagen Consensus), respectively.  These health and cost messages resonated with both the health and finance policy makers in attendance and were recurring themes throughout a number of presentations on Day 1.

A second key message is that new countries looking to establish flour fortification programs (e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan) can learn from more mature programs in the region (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) and achieve scale quickly. Lessons on monitoring, premix supply and embedding enforcement activities within the broader food safety control system were shared by the Turkmenistan delegation, by the private sector which is already fortifying  (e.g. President of the Union of Grain Processors of Kazakhstan) and by international partners.

On day 2 each country delegation spent time discussing their top 1-3 priority actions and committing to these. It appeared as if a healthy competition among the countries was created through sharing of good practice on how to accelerate action towards mandating the intervention, improving enforcement and improving coverage and impact.

The Afghanistan and Pakistan delegations even convened their own side meeting to deliberate on trade issues affecting the importation of fortified flour from Pakistan to Afghanistan and agreed on specific action points in relation to testing of aflatoxins of the wheat, border enforcement and pricing. International partner organizations committed to following up with each country to support efforts to achieve these actions in the coming 6 months to one year. A final summit statement provided an overview of these country priorities and commitments.

GAIN is committed to playing its part to ensure flour fortification programs are built, improved and sustained throughout the region and that women and children – and the populations as a whole – reap the full benefits of this highly cost effective intervention.

#Futurefortified

Published 6 April 2017

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