New estimates show that the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to widespread increases in malnutrition due to disruptions in food, health and social protection systems. Lockdown measures are disrupting the production, transportation, and sale of nutritious, fresh and affordable foods, forcing millions of families to rely on nutrient-poor alternatives. Early reports suggest substantial drops in the coverage of preventive health services, including vaccination and antenatal care programmes, as well as declines in optimal breastfeeding practices for fear of virus transmission.
While policymakers and public health leaders manage a range of urgent priorities, delivering good nutrition must be a foundational component of an effective pandemic response strategy. Good nutrition helps lessen the effects and risks of COVID-19, and is a prerequisite for the physical, immunological, and cognitive development of children and the health and productivity of adults. In short, no individual, community, or nation can thrive without good nutrition.
To address these challenges, Standing Together for Nutrition (STfN) formed as a multidisciplinary consortium of nutrition, economics, food and health system experts working to address the scale and reach of COVID-related nutrition challenges. In addition to assessing the impact of COVID-19 on nutritional status, STfN will model projected impacts during the short- and long-term recovery phases of the pandemic and identify recommendations to mitigate damage – drawing from agenda-setting data and evidence-based policy materials, including the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 (SOFI2020), and the recent United Nation (UN) policy brief, The impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition.
STfN’s open Call to Action, "One virus, many consequences: A call to action to stand together and build on evidence to inform nutrition responses" – signed by over 500 signatories from research, academia, development, and civil society institutions from every region – urges global nutrition, health, and food systems communities to work together more effectively than ever before, to assess the scale and reach of the nutritional challenges and to articulate effective responses.
To help inform and guide prioritisation ahead of the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit and Food Systems Summit in 2021, STfN leadership authored a Lancet commentary and are working on a more detailed forthcoming Lancet paper:
- Two new Lancet commentaries issued on 27 July 2020. The first presents early estimates from researchers on the combined economic and health systems crisis on child wasting and related mortality in the context of the pandemic. It is a companion piece to a second Lancet commentary from the directors-general of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNICEF, World Food Programme (WFP), and World Health Organization (WHO), which issued a call to action to protect children’s right to adequate nutrition in the face of COVID-19.
- A forthcoming Lancet paper will outline the evidence on the impact of COVID-19 across a range of nutrition indicators and present recommendations to mitigate the damage and build more resilient systems that support good nutrition (timing TBD, fall 2020).
The Communications tools attached will highlight the urgent need for evidence-based recommendations to mitigate the damage of the pandemic and make the case for increased financial and political prioritisation for nutrition.
- The COVID-19 pandemic is having unprecedented impacts on all forms of malnutrition – we are facing an impending large-scale global food and nutrition emergency.
- 6.7 million children will be wasted and nearly 130,000 (128,605) children under five will die due to increased wasting and reduced nutrition services.
- This data is only the tip of the iceberg.
- Disruptions to food, economic and health systems are driving this increased burden.
- Accelerated investments in nutrition, food systems, and health systems must be a pillar of both the immediate and longer-term phases of the pandemic response.
- Leaders of four UN agencies – FAO, UNICEF, WFP and WHO – issued an urgent call to action to governments, donors, private sector and the UN to support national governments to:
- Safeguard access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets;
- Invest decisively in maternal and child nutrition;
- Re-activate services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting;
- Maintain the provision of nutritious and safe school meals, and;
- Expand social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets and essential services.
- A minimum of US$2.4 billion is needed immediately to increase coverage of preventative nutrition services and address this steep uptick in wasting.