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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nutrition International’s Nutrition Technical Assistance Mechanism (NTEAM) has conducted a thorough review across its portfolio of current or planned technical assistance to determine, and implement, the necessary modifications that could optimize their contribution to national COVID-19 impact mitigation responses. The review also included a readjustment of technical assistance workplans, in the event that the original deliverables no longer constitute a priority due to COVID-19, or where activities are no longer feasible, such as travel, workshops, in-person meetings with government, etc.

For NTEAM’s Technical Assistance for Nutrition (TAN) project – funded with UK aid from the UK Government – the review was a collaborative effort with SUN Focal Points, Nutrition International Country Directors and technical assistance providers and, in some cases, heads of nutrition in government. Consultations with them have been led by NTEAM’s technical assistance Regional Project Teams in Asia and Africa, and supported by Nutrition International staff based in Ottawa, Canada (at headquarters). To share information and ensure alignment with other efforts, Nutrition International is also holding coordination calls with the SUN Movement Secretariat to share what we’ve learned about the in-country context and resulting technical assistance adaptation.

So far a total of 21 technical assistance projects that are either on-going or starting soon have been reviewed in four Asian countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines) and six African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Senegal), as well as the technical assistance provided to the SUN Movement Secretariat in Geneva, and to the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community.

We are reassured by the reaffirmation by the ten countries of the continued relevance of the agreed technical assistance, and their agreement that it should continue. In some cases, SUN Focal Points felt that the technical assistance has gained even greater relevance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as support for the development of Indonesia’s National Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2020-2024. However, in several assignments, the approach taken to deliver technical assistance has had to adapt to the limitations imposed by COVID-19 response measures, for example:

  • To support technical assistance provision at the subnational level in Ethiopia and Kenya, where trips to the subnational level cannot be undertaken, funds earmarked in technical assistance budgets for travel are being re-allocated to internet and telephone credit, for improving communication with subnational teams, and to printing, which can be done at the subnational level to ensure access by the intended beneficiaries
  • Dissemination workshops in Pakistan are being replaced with virtual exchanges, and in Kenya the Guidance Manual being developed to help county officials develop Nutrition Action Plans (CNAPs) will include information to ensure that these CNAPs will also be responsive and adaptive to emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic
  • In several countries routine face-to-face working meetings are being replaced with phone or video calls
  • In the Philippines, support to subnational entities with nutrition budgeting exercise for 2020 is being provided via virtual platforms such as Zoom
  • In some situations, selected activities such as training, have been postponed for two to three months, while the situation is regularly re-assessed

Furthermore, the consultation has identified several long-term technical assistance providers who, because of their expertise and seniority, have been invited to join national COVID-19 response planning teams, to lead COVID-19 related working groups, and to lead the development of nutrition-related COVID-19 response plans and guidance, such as in:

  • Bangladesh: Dr. Iqbal Kabir (Team Lead) and Dr. Mohsin Ali
  • Ethiopia: Dr. Sisay Sinamo
  • Kenya: Dr. Daniel Mwai

Finally, the technical assistance review has identified additional needs for support to national COVID-19 responses which have been incorporated into technical assistance workplans, as detailed in this article.

As the COVID-19 situation evolves, the technical assistance review will continue with all the countries that have ongoing or upcoming technical assistance, to ensure each technical assistance workplan reflects up to date COVID-19 considerations.