In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nutrition Technical Assistance Mechanism (NTEAM)’s TAN project has conducted a thorough review of its portfolio of current or planned Technical Assistance (TA), as outlined in this article.
Without compromising their original objectives and workplans, ongoing or incipient TA are being refined to incorporate the new needs, concerns and lessons emerging from the pandemic. TAN TA providers are providing technical, strategic and organizational support and leadership to the COVID-19 coordination units that national governments have established, helping to position nutrition as a continued priority within their discussions and plans. Below are five examples from Africa and Asia.
Nutrition International has provided TA to the Bangladesh National Nutrition Council (BNNC) almost continuously since 2016, having helped develop and implement the Second National Plan of Action on Nutrition at the national and subnational level, as well as rendering support to the institutional strengthening of BNNC itself, strengthening national monitoring and reporting systems for nutrition, formulating a nutrition advocacy plan, and conducting an assessment of Human Resource needs for nutrition in multiple ministries.
In light of COVID-19, a technical/expert committee on COVID-19 was convened as a priority and chaired by the Director General of the BNNC. Three Working Groups were formed under this technical committee: General Food Basket, Children Food Package, and COVID-19 & Nutrition. The TAN TA team are playing a pivotal role in all three Working Groups, alongside officials from multiple sectors and UN agencies. A first priority of the Working Groups has been to assess the composition of the food basket distributed during emergency responses, with guidance regarding adequate nutrition in emergency responses forthcoming. The COVID-19 & Nutrition Working Group, led by Senior Nutrition International TAN TA provider Dr. Iqbal Kabir, was tasked with recommending the food basket and other nutrition priorities that should be integrated in the national COVID-19 response plan, including nutrition messages.
The work of all three groups has since been compiled and recommendations on Food Packages for Disaster Affected Populations, including COVID-19, submitted to Ministry of Health and Ministry of Disaster & Relief. In addition, together with UN agencies, Nutrition International TAN TA providers are supporting the BNNC’s advocacy efforts for a nutrition cell within the Government’s “COVID-19 Control Room.”
Our TA providers, Dr. Iqbal Kabir (as Chair) and Dr. Mohsin Ali, are also members of a high-level group, along with members drawn from the BNNC, Dhaka University, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (as Co-chair), Food Policy Monitoring Unit, and coordinators from the food security and nutrition Clusters. This high-level group has been formed with the following mission: to assess and review the current situation of underlying determinants and drivers of malnutrition (e.g. low income, poor health and illness, food insecurity, gender violence, etc.) resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown; to determine the causality pathways between COVID-19 and malnutrition; and to estimate the extent of the burdens of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) during the post COVID-19 situation. After the assessment, the group will develop a comprehensive multi-sectoral response plan for reducing these cases of malnutrition, and to mitigate the negative impacts of poor nutritional status on vulnerable groups. Finally, a policy brief on COVID-19 & Nutrition will be developed for advocating to high-level decision-makers.
A long-term embedded Nutrition International TAN consultant has supported the SUN Focal Point and the Federal Programme Delivery Unit (FPDU) for the Seqota Declaration implementation, and nutrition teams in several regions since 2017. Nutrition International TAN support has also contributed to developing individual and institutional capacity, improved the costing, budgeting and tracking of nutrition finance, and strengthened Monitoring and Evaluation of the National Nutrition Program II.
Support to the PDU will continue, but now incorporates additional objectives related to COVID-19: conduct a risk assessment and implement mitigation measures for the PDU, and develop the PDU’s COVID-19 Response Plan. In addition to these responsibilities, Nutrition International TAN TA Provider Dr. Sisay Sinamo (Senior Programme Manager in the FPDU) is a member of the Government’s National Response Team to COVID-19, supporting the government to draft a National Nutrition COVID-19 Response Plan, and to include this in its Multi Sectoral COVID-19 Response Plan, working closely with the Maternal and Child Health Directorate Nutrition Case Team.
The consultation has also concluded that the upcoming TA continues to be relevant, in the face of COVID-19. Nutrition International TAN support for an exercise to align the Multi-Sectoral Plan on Nutrition with the review of Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan II will continue, and the oversight of the development of a Priority Service Package, which contextualizes global guidance and recommendations on nutrition for Regions and woredas, will be supported and discussions continue with multiple in-country partners to ensure alignment and complementarity of TA support provided.
Starting in mid-2017, Nutrition International TAN has supported the SUN Secretariat and the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) in Indonesia on many fronts, including capacity and organizational development, operationalization of the Integrated Nutrition Intervention (INI), strengthening the online information sharing platform on stunting, and supporting capacity building on stunting prevention and reduction.
The consultation has concluded that the development of the five-year National Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2020-2024, slated to start in June 2020, is even more necessary now, and efforts are being made for support to be deployed as planned. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bappenas expressed a need for guidelines on nutrition responses during emergencies, which Nutrition International TAN has agreed to help develop as an additional section within the National Food and Nutrition Action Plan entitled “nutrition security during emergencies and pandemics”, drawing lessons from the current COVID-19 response.
Nutrition International TAN has provided support to Pakistan, since 2016, through the Federal and Provincial SUN Secretariats of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Balochistan. This TA has supported the formulation of a multi-sectoral plan of action for nutrition, the strengthening of multi-sectoral and stakeholder platforms for implementation of nutrition actions, capacity development of SUNAR members on nutrition research, development of an advocacy strategy for nutrition, and the development of food safety standards and regulations.
In light of COVID-19, TAN and the Nutrition International Country Office have been supporting the Government to conduct an assessment of the risks posed to nutrition by the COVID-19 pandemic, to help focus the strengthening of nutrition programs. Significantly, the ongoing TAN TAs to support the development of technical and operational guidelines for implementing the Food Authority Act in Balochistan & AJK have been adapted to include the development of Standard Operating Procedures for Food Safety and Hygiene in food handling by shops, markets, and consumers during pandemics. Having now been approved, the guidelines will now be shared with federal and provinces authorities. In addition, the scope of work of an upcoming TA in Pakistan, to support the multi-sectoral nutrition response in Punjab, is being revised to incorporate support to the provincial government of Punjab on its nutrition-related COVID-19 response.
Nutrition International TAN has supported the Philippines since 2016 with a series of TA engagements, including supporting the formulation, operationalization and implementation of the Philippines Plan of Action for Nutrition, and its budgeting and expenditure tracking, supporting the development and operationalization of fortification policies, and strengthening the National Nutrition Council (NNC).
The TAN TA team is now in close coordination with the NNC in planning the National Nutrition Cluster response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Nutrition Cluster, chaired by the NNC, has issued an advisory, recommending critical actions to be undertaken by stakeholders providing nutrition services in light of COVID-19, to all governors and mayors as chairpersons of the Local Nutrition Clusters, to provincial, city and municipal nutrition action officers, and to district and city nutrition program coordinators. Also, with support from TAN TA, the Department of the Interior and Local Government issued an advisory encouraging the Local Government Units to utilize the Gender and Development 2020 budget for gender-responsive initiatives that address COVID-19, to ensure budget is available to implement the advisory’s actions.
As part of its ongoing support to NNC, the TAN TA team has made further recommendations to the NNC for strengthening the COVID-19 response in the short- and long-term, which TAN is ready to support if they are accepted. These includes mobilizing the NNC workforce at national and regional levels, nutrition action offices at sub-regional level, and civil society organizations and other SUN Networks active in nutrition, to safeguard nutrition during the pandemic, and to chart out a strategy for post-pandemic nutrition-sensitive national and sub-national re-programming. The TAN TA team, together with other partners such as UNICEF, are also developing a post-pandemic advocacy plan for nutrition.