Philippines losing over P220 billion a year due to child undernutrition – report

UNICEF Philippines Country Representative Lotta Sylwander says nutrition is 'not yet' a priority of the current administration, but 'there seems to be an increasing interest'

Jee Y. Geronimo

11:19:13am January 23, 2018

11:19:13am January 23, 2018

NUTRITION. Child malnutrition has been a problem among several Filipino households for years, official statistics show. File photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/Rappler

NUTRITION. Child malnutrition has been a problem among several Filipino households for years, official statistics show. File photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines loses over P220 billion yearly due to the high prevalence of child undernutrition, according to a report launched Tuesday, January 23.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), together with the Department of Health, the National Nutrition Council (NNC), and the Philippine Legislators' Committee on Population and Development launched the report "Economic Consequences of Undernutrition in the Philippines" at the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The report said that while the Philippines has among the highest economic growth rates in Southeast Asia, "the nation's nutrition indicators continue to lag behind most countries in the region, creating a drain of about $4.5 billion per year from the national economy."

In addition, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Joris van Hees said that over 29,000 Filipino children under 5 die each year due to undernutrition.

NNC Executive Director Maria-Bernardita Flores told Rappler that an estimated P5 billion yearly is needed for very key interventions, especially during a child's first 1,000 days.

According to the report, benefit-cost ratios indicate that for every $1 investment to address undernutrition, there is a return of $12.

"Why is it so difficult for Congress and Senate to say we're going to invest $1 to get $12 back? Because that's really the return of this investment," UNICEF Philippines Country Representative Lotta Sylwander said on Tuesday.

She added: "Why is it that it seems that malnutrition in the Philippines is a sort of hidden issue that is not dealt with properly?" (READ: PH among the worst places for children to grow up – report)

After the launch, Rappler asked Sylwander if she thinks nutrition is a priority of the current administration.

"Not yet, but…there are actually several bills around the [first] 1,000 days where nutrition really feature as a main issue, so there seems to be an increasing interest," the UNICEF country representative answered.

She said politicians should look at the report on the costs of undernutrition and "be bothered…be concerned of the massive losses of money, of capacity, of moving the country forward." After all, she said, "it's in their power to do something."

"It doesn't really matter which side of the political walls you are, you can believe that malnutrition makes such huge damage to the future of the Philippines that anyone, no matter what political side, should be supportive of this," she added.

Flores also believes the report is a "very important tool" to convince policymakers in so far as budget allocation for nutrition is concerned.

"We know what to do, we have the interventions, we have designed them, we know that they are going to be very effective, but we lack the scale, we don't get to reach 90% of the individuals or people who are affected, and therefore we cannot really go beyond the normal coverage," she explained.

House lawmakers who were present during Tuesday's launch also made the case for investing in nutrition.

Bagong Henerasyon Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy said investing in nutrition is investing in the future of the country, while Negros Oriental 1st District Representative Jocelyn Limkaichong said budgetary allocation signifies concrete commitments of the government to fund programs and interventions deemed as priorities.

"The passage of the First 1,000 Days [Bill] in the House of Representatives shows that nutrition is deemed as a priority. But the challenge is to make sure the law, when enacted, will have sufficient budget allocation," Limkaichong said. – Rappler.com