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One year ago, the world seemed to stop and life as we knew it changed.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Countries around the world began to shut down, businesses closed their doors and offices told their employees to work from home. People quickly packed up their desks, expecting to be back within a few weeks.

It’s been a strange, hard year. We’ve watched case counts and death tolls rise each day. Phrases like “flatten the curve,” “social distancing,” and “stop the spread” have become part of our common lexicon, masks and hand sanitizer are standard fare, and hugs, touch, and human contact are a limited and precious resource.

Today, hope is on the horizon. The vaccine rollout has started in many countries, bringing the possibility of a new normal by the end of the year. However, in many others vaccine distribution has not yet begun – further underscoring the inequalities that continue to plague our world.

Nutrition International’s employees have demonstrated passion – and compassion – while trying to stay connected to each other and their communities.

The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the disparities that exist between developed and developing countries. In Canada, children and parents are at home together, tackling the challenges that come with video conferencing and virtual learning. But, in many countries where schools have closed and online learning isn’t an option, young people are missing out on their education completely, with many – especially girls – never to return.

COVID-19 has unleashed a malnutrition crisis, which threatens to be more devastating than the pandemic itself and jeopardizes the future of an entire generation. And, as with most crises, the impacts are felt most acutely by women and girls – already more likely to be malnourished than men and boys, they are now least likely to be able to access the health and nutrition services they need.

For billions of people, COVID-19 and its knock-on effects have been, and will continue to be, devastating:

  • 50+ countries experienced disruptions to essential nutrition services
  • 6 billion informal workers – mostly women – have lost income
  • 5 billion students were impacted by school closures
  • 100 million children missed at least one vitamin A supplement
  • 80 million people may become malnourished due to the economic impacts of COVID-19
  • 1 million more pregnant women may become anaemic

Despite the many difficulties of the past year, Nutrition International’s employees have demonstrated passion – and compassion – while trying to stay connected to each other and their communities. At headquarters, our social committee has stepped up and found ways to bring us together while giving back to our community through fundraising campaigns for the Ottawa Food Bank. Our regional offices have done the same, coming together to raise money for local organizations and donate PPE so local community health workers can continue to reach those in need.

While it would be impossible to highlight all the work our global team has accomplished over the last twelve months, here are just a few recent achievements from across the organization:

  • With physical distancing measures in place, our teams used media platforms to educate the public about the importance of nutrition in numerous countries. In Senegal, we helped to launch a national media campaign to promote the consumption of iodized salt to combat iodine deficiency disorders. In Kenya, we turned to local radio in Busia County to highlight the importance of breastfeeding during World Breastfeeding Week.
  • In both Indonesia and Bangladesh, our concerted advocacy efforts have led to new legislation on wheat flour fortification and salt iodization, respectively. In Indonesia, mandatory wheat flour fortification had been put on hold because of the pandemic. In February, it was reinstated with stricter guidelines and strengthened standards. Bangladesh’s new salt iodization law mandates that all edible salt be iodized. Both initiatives will help save lives and improve the overall health of millions of people.
  • As the Projet intégré de nutrition dans les régions de Kolda et de Kédougou (PINKK) was winding down in Senegal, COVID-19 restrictions closed markets, leaving rural households unable to buy or sell produce. The PINKK project team worked with local authorities to distribute food and hygiene kits to more than 7,000 households, ensuring they had soap, detergent and food staples.
  • In December, Nutrition International participated in the November launch of the Nutrition Year of Action – cohosted by the governments of Canada and Bangladesh – where Canada announced increased funding for nutrition, including $29.5 M for Nutrition International to lead a global emergency vitamin A catch-up campaign. This event marked the launch of a Year of Action on nutrition, which will culminate at the Nutrition For Growth Summit in Japan.
  • A newly-launched project in India will scale up the inclusion of fortified foods in the country’s social safety net programs, so that millions more people are reached with critical micronutrients. And the next phase of our large-scale fortification program in Pakistan will help reduce rates of malnutrition across the country.
  • And finally, in March, we celebrated a very unusual International Women’s Day by sharing the stories of youth advocate Shubhangi Kori, teachers Dwi Purwati and Ai Maryati, and community health volunteer Maureen Wangari, all of whom are examples of the countless women working to ensure that their communities have access to good nutrition during the pandemic.

Every member of the Nutrition International team is committed to making the world a better place, whether that’s across an ocean or down the street. That our work has been able to continue – with adjustments, pivots and new approaches – is a testament to the dedication and ingenuity of everyone in our organization.