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Address by Joel Spicer, Nutrition International President and CEO, at the launch of Right Start Pakistan at the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad on May 25, 2017

Check against delivery.

Distinguished guests, partners, ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of Nutrition International ― formerly known as the Micronutrient Initiative ― it is my pleasure to be here today for the launch of the Right Start Initiative in Pakistan.

First, allow me to thank His Excellency Mr. Perry Calderwood, High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan, for hosting this event with us ― and all of you for accepting our invitation to join us to mark this important moment.

On my way here, I was thinking about how Canada and Pakistan are connected in many ways. For one, we now have a citizen in common!

Indeed, just last month, your very own Malala Yousafzai visited Ottawa, where the Nutrition International headquarters are located, to receive honourary Canadian citizenship in recognition of her work as messenger of peace, global advocate for education ― and women and girls’ rights champion.

It was great to welcome this incredible ambassador for Pakistan – a young yet powerful advocate for women and girls’ rights and empowerment.

This particularly speaks to me. Just last week, my daughter celebrated her fifth birthday. My deepest wish for her is to be healthy and live a fulfilling life. I also wish that for every girl like her and every boy; unfortunately we know that hundreds of millions of children today are unable to achieve their full potential because of malnutrition.

Malnutrition cripples the body and the mind and prevents girls and boys from reaching their full potential.

So Canada and Pakistan are also connected through a common desire to eradicate this problem because we value human life and understand the toll malnutrition takes on a society’s development, health and economic progress.

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. Now, Canada has earmarked 75 million Canadian dollars (including 4.9 million here in Pakistan) to support the global Right Start Initiative which is being implemented in nine countries around the world. This initiative has a particular focus on girls and women – because they face a particularly heavy burden of malnutrition and because they are powerful agents of change who lift up everyone around them.

Pakistan recognizes the importance and urgency of investing in nutrition, not only for its people to be healthy, but also to help lift them out of poverty. This is why the country has made both nutrition and food security priorities ― and has made a clear commitment to take action to end malnutrition by 2030.

At Nutrition International, over the last 18 years, we have witnessed and been an ally in Pakistan’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 food fortification, salt iodization, vitamin A supplementation, and treatment of childhood diarrhoea with zinc and oral rehydration salts ― but also by sharing our scientific research with the development community and governments to build better programs in nutrition.  As Minister Ahsan Iqbal said just the other day: “it’s time to stop talking about what to do – and get on with figuring out how to do it” Nutrition International has also been a global advocate and convener, working to support the SUN Movement.

We are proud of what we have accomplished together. However, malnutrition in Pakistan is still chronic and widespread among pregnant women, newborns and children particularly, and continues to require urgent attention.

Currently, for every 10 children who are born in Pakistan, one will die before the age of five, and close to half of all children under five are moderately or severely stunted.

A malnourished child born to a malnourished mother is robbed of his or her potential to live a productive life and remains trapped in the vicious circle of poverty, in which everyone loses.

Malnutrition is holding the country back, costing Pakistan 3% of its GDP ― an estimated 7.6 billion US dollars ― every year, according to a new report launched by the Pakistan SUN Secretariat in collaboration with the World Food Program.

This is why increasing investments in nutrition 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 we need.

I’m here today to tell you that Nutrition International is committed supporting Pakistan’s efforts to improve the nutrition and health of pregnant women, newborns, infants and young children ― and reinforce the strong foundations it has already built towards the achievement of its nutrition targets.

Through the Right Start Initiative, and with the support of the Government of Canada, we will work with the national and provincial governments in three provinces to implement interventions designed to address both maternal and neonatal health, as well as infant and young child nutrition.

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

  1. Pakistan has an opportunity to be recognized globally as a nutrition leader that is showing the way forward to other countries. It can do this by taking concrete action – including making significant financial investments – to solve it.  But much more action is required to change the lives of the most vulnerable.
  2. Malnutrition is a problem that affects all of us. Canada has been standing alongside Pakistan 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 thrive, become productive members of society and contribute to the economy.
  3. We are excited to continue to work with governments and development partners in Pakistan 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.

For more information, download the Right Start Pakistan fact sheet (PDF) or infographic (PDF)