Address by Nutrition International President and CEO at launch of Right Start Kenya

Nutrition International President and CEO Joel Spicer spoke at the launch of Right Start in Kenya on June 15, 2017.

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Distinguished guests, partners, ladies and gentlemen.

HABARIAKO MA RAFIKI!

On behalf of Nutrition International ― formerly known as the Micronutrient Initiative ― it is a real pleasure for our team to be here today for the launch of the Right Start Program in Kenya.

Let me start by thanking our hosts, the National Ministry of Health, as well as the Governor of Nakuru County. And thank you all for accepting our invitation to join us to mark this important moment.

I’m excited to be here with you in Kenya, as this is a very special time for Nutrition International in this country. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to officially open our new office in Kenya ― which not only houses the Nutrition International Kenya team, but also the Regional office for all of Africa, which was recently moved here.

This expansion is a testament to Nutrition International’s commitment to helping Kenya and other countries in Africa improve nutrition, particularly for women and girls, and part of the reason we’re doing this is because we know that fighting malnutrition is a priority in Kenya and the leadership is there, and we want to support that effort and build on the growing momentum.

We are united in a common desire to put an end to malnutrition because we value human life and understand the impact of malnutrition on women, children, families and on society’s development, health and economic progress.  Without good nutrition – real, equitable progress and development cannot happen.

Canada is a longstanding global leader in nutrition. In fact, this year, Nutrition International is celebrating 25 years of global impact and partnership with the Government of Canada, including the Right Start program which is being implemented in nine countries around the world. This initiative has a focus on girls and women – because they face a particularly heavy burden of malnutrition and because they are powerful forces for change who lift up everyone around them.  Investing in women, is an investment for all.

With the exception of my grandfather, some of the most influential people in my life that helped shape my beliefs, my values, what I fight for, what I stand for – are women.  From my grandmother, to my mother, to my wife and my daughter.  Without strong women, you cannot have strong men.

Empowering women and girls is a thread throughout all of Canada’s international development work ― and the guiding principle behind its new International Assistance Policy.  It is also a key driver of our work at Nutrition International.  By ‘empowering’ we don’t simply put a strong focus on tackling malnutrition among women and girls; it’s much more than that.  Involving women in the design of projects – listening to their ideas – respecting their knowledge of what works in their own communities, and equipping them with the knowledge they need exemplifies our approach.

At Nutrition International, for nearly a decade, we have witnessed and been an ally in Kenya’s progress in the fight against malnutrition. Together and working with our partners we have helped improve millions of lives.

This was achieved through a variety of nutrition interventions such as salt iodization, vitamin A supplementation, antenatal and delivery care for pregnant women, treatment of childhood diarrhoea with zinc and oral rehydration salts and through iron and folic acid supplementation ― but also by sharing our scientific research with the development community and governments to build better programs in nutrition.

But despite progress in Kenya there is still much to be done. Currently,  a quarter of all women – over 2.5 million – including adolescent girls, have anaemia, which can impact their physical wellbeing, their performance at work or school, and increase the possibility of complications if they become pregnant.  And still more than 1 out of every 4 children in Kenya is stunted – their brain development and immune systems and their full human potential damaged for life.  These are just two examples where we need to push harder.  The key point is:

A malnourished child born to a malnourished mother is robbed of his or her potential to live a productive and healthy life and remains trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty, in which everyone loses.  And this is all preventable!

This is why increasing investments in nutrition – particularly at county level – and spending them effectively is crucial. Awareness and leadership are important, but without the appropriate resources and action, they do not lead to the change people desperately need.

I’m here today to tell you that Nutrition International is committed to supporting Kenya’s efforts to improve the nutrition and health of women, adolescent girls, newborns and young children ― and we are particularly keen to help strengthen the response at community level, by Community Health Extension Workers, and Community Health Volunteers in particular – because we believe real change happens when it takes place closest to the people that need it.  Please raise your hands – all of you who work at the community level – I have seen the some of the impact you have achieved firsthand and it is inspiring.  Thank you for the work you do – it is so important.

Through the Right Start Initiative, and with the support of the Government of Canada, we will work with the national government and 21 county governments to address malnutrition and health issues for some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

To sum up, I want to leave you with three thoughts:

  1. Kenya is already recognized globally as a nutrition leader that is showing the way forward to other countries. But we need to continue to work together to raise the bar with increased action, funding, and collaboration between all levels of government to turn these investments into results.
  2. Malnutrition is a problem that affects all of us. Canada has been standing alongside Kenya for many years – and will continue to do so – to make sure that every person, particularly the most vulnerable, receives the nutrition they need to survive and thrive.
  3. Adolescent girls are often neglected when it comes to nutrition. However, they are heavily affected by malnutrition, especially anaemia. I’m particularly proud that, through Right Start we will contribute to improving the nutrition of over one million adolescent girls in Kenya.

We are excited to continue to work with governments and development partners in Kenya to push for meaningful change to end malnutrition, especially for women and girls. We believe it’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do to ensure a sustainable future for this country. Thank you. ASANTE SANA