By Mary Hearty

The African Union Commission and Nutrition International have launched an advocacy campaign known as “With Good Nutrition, She’ll Grow Into It”, dedicated to improving the health, well-being and empowerment of girls in Africa through efforts to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia.

The campaign was kicked off during the High-Level Dialogue on Nutrition Financing in Maseru, Lesotho.

The two-year campaign aims to promote public awareness on the negative impacts of inadequate nutrition – especially iron-deficiency anaemia – on the health and education outcomes of adolescent girls.

It also aims to galvanize the support of policymakers to prioritize investment in adolescent nutrition to scale up proven, low-cost, high-impact interventions for the prevention of iron-deficiency anaemia and improved nutrition education.

Africa is home to more than 250 million adolescents, the largest cohort of young people the world has ever seen. Yet, the continent sees an estimated 60 million cases of anaemia in adolescent girls each year, which costs AU member states a staggering $1.38B.

No region, including Africa, is on track to meet its global targets of reducing anaemia in women and adolescent girls by 50%.

Speaking at the launch event, Minata Samate Cessouma, the AU Commission’s Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, called for action advocacy for the prioritization of adolescent nutrition in AU member states.

Cessouma urged Member States to prioritize adolescent nutrition in their programs and budgets, advocate for adolescent nutrition through the engagement of young people to reduce the prevalence of anaemia among girls and promote national policies and development plans that address iron-deficiency anaemia through multi-sectoral approaches.

Additionally, they were urged to mobilize resources for the scale-up of proven low-cost, high-impact interventions for preventing iron-deficiency anaemia and improved nutrition education in adolescent girls among other things.

“Anaemia impairs cognitive functioning, compromises school performance, reduces productivity and affects current and future reproductive health,” said Cessouma. “This is why it’s imperative for all AU member states to make reducing it a priority so that adolescent girls can reach their full potential, and be active contributors to strong, prosperous African economies.”

“Investments made in adolescents and in their futures over the next decade will determine the direction of the African continent, and whether it achieves the demographic dividend these young people both promise and deserve,” said Dr. Richard Pendame, Nutrition International’s Regional Director for Africa. “As such, the benefits of optimizing nutrition in this age group are enormous and demand urgent attention.”

The AU has made ending malnutrition a priority, with the inclusion of six nutrition targets to be attained by 2025 in its African Regional Nutrition Strategy (2016-2025), the declaration 2022 as the Africa Year of Nutrition, and, more recently, a call for all member states to “act to end malnutrition in all its forms” made in the Abidjan Declaration.

In April 2022, African Union Commission and Nutrition International signed a memorandum of understanding toward a shared vision to end hunger poverty.

Nutrition International pledged to support the AU’s Africa Year of Nutrition activities in multiple areas, among them, the prioritization of adolescent nutrition in AU member states.

More recently, in February 2023, Nutrition International doubled down on its commitments and pledged technical support to at least 30 AU member states.

The organization also committed to supporting the development of three continental strategies over the next two years: Nutrition Communication and Advocacy, Adolescent Nutrition and Anaemia.

The launch event was attended by the African Union Nutrition Champion His Majesty King Letsie III of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Her Majesty Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso of the Kingdom of Lesotho, His Excellency Sam Matekane, Prime Minister of Lesotho, and ministers and parliamentarians from various AU member states, as well as donors and other nutrition stakeholders.

The launch event took place during a two-day High-Level Dialogue on Nutrition Financing- started on 23 March- to review initiatives on private sector engagement, unpack the role of the private sector plans in innovative financing for nutrition on the continent and assess accountability in resource allocation as well as Parliamentarians’ oversight of budget allocation.

His Majesty King Letsie III said malnutrition in Africa can be eliminated if practical and sustainable financing mechanisms that will deliver improved nutrition outcomes for the people are put in place.

While acknowledging the progress made at the continental level as far as meeting nutrition targets, especially the Abidjan declaration, the King further called on joint efforts on the part of all stakeholders.

“I would, however, like to emphasize that joint efforts, of monumental proportions, bringing together governments, development partners, parliamentarians, traditional leaders, private sector, and civil society, are needed to achieve the progress we all strive for in nutrition financing and in elevating nutrition to a higher level on both the continental and domestic agendas,” he said.

King Letsie III further stressed the fact that Nutrition was core to the health, well-being, and economic development of the continent and could no longer be regarded as a food production issue because it involved every sector within the food systems value chain.

The event provided an opportunity to present available evidence, lessons on resourcing, and discuss strategies as well as initiatives across sectors that could accelerate the positive transformation of Africa’s food systems and significantly reduce malnutrition and food insecurity on the continent.

It culminated in a call to action for increased investments in nutrition across health; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); education; food; and social protection systems, as well as for better food systems, and nutrition governance and accountability.