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In the Senegalese city of Thiès, just 65 km east of Dakar, the adolescent population has grown rapidly in the past 15 years. Young people now comprise a full one-third of the city’s 600,000 residents. But high poverty rates and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services have left adolescents here particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, unplanned pregnancy and early marriage.

Since 2019, Nutrition International, through its Fort pour le Futur project, has been supporting the Counselling Centre for Adolescents in Thiès to deliver integrated nutrition and SRHR services, including weekly iron and folic acid supplementation and educational and counselling services to prevent anaemia. This project serves as an example for integrating nutrition and SRHR into platforms beyond public schools – so that both in- and out-of-school adolescents can access the services. During COVID-19, when schools were shut down globally, the importance of these delivery channels became critical.

On March 18th, Canada’s Minister of International Development, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Members of Parliament Greg Fergus and Arielle Kayabaga, and Canadian embassy in Senegal staff visited the counselling centre to hear directly from adolescents about the impact of the health and nutrition services provided there. They highlighted the importance of leading the charge for equality, starting within their own families so that it spread to across the community and beyond.

“Nutrition investments are investments in a better future,” said Balla Moussa Diedhiou, Nutrition International Country Director, Senegal and the Sahel. “We are now at a critical juncture where those investments are more important than ever. As we enter the African Union’s Year of Nutrition we are committed to ensuring that our children and youth are well-nourished and able to meet the challenges of the future. I want to thank Canada for their unwavering support as we work to meet the challenges of today.”

While visiting the centre, Minister Sajjan and the delegation also saw firsthand how Canadian investments in vitamin A supplementation are increasing child survival rates. Canada has been a global leader in vitamin A supplementation for more than three decades, helping to save the lives of more than five million children globally.

Vitamin A deficiency in children under five is a serious public health issue in more than 60 countries around the world. Vitamin A supplements reduce the incidence of preventable child deaths by strengthening the immune systems of children under five who are vitamin-A deficient. Nutrition International, with support from the Government of Canada, procures up to 80% of the world’s vitamin A capsules – manufactured by two Canadian companies – which are distributed to more than 50 countries, including Senegal.

Canada’s leadership in strengthening health systems and nutrition services is needed now, at a time when soaring food prices, conflict and climate change are compounding the global malnutrition crisis. Continued investments in these low-cost, high-impact nutrition investments can ensure that communities have the tools they need to build a healthier, more equitable and sustainable future.