EU to combat malnutrition with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Jean-Claude Juncker and Melinda Gates, 3 June. [European Commission]

The European Commission unveiled a major partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday (3 June), announcing a new fund to tackle global malnutrition.

Speaking at the European Development Days (EDDs) forum, Development Commissioner Neven Mimica confirmed the EU’s commitment to helping partner countries reduce the number of children who are chronically undernourished by at least seven million by 2025, announcing €23.5 million in funds for a new initiative: the National Information Platforms on Nutrition (NIPN).

This initiative is expected to be a major step forward in providing partner countries with the tools to better monitor progress in the reduction of malnutrition, to improve information and analysis about nutrition, and to enable partner countries to develop well-informed and effective national nutrition policies as a result. It will initially be rolled out in six countries: Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Laos and Niger.

“We have made huge progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015,” said Mimica. “But until every child is properly nourished we cannot reduce our efforts. That’s why the EU has committed to provide €3.5 billion towards improving nutrition by 2020.”

The primary goal of the EU’s new partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to join forces to implement the NIPN in order to improve accountability and governance on nutrition. They will provide $500,000 dollars for the initiative. The UK’s Department for International Development will also support the initiative with £6.4 million.

Speaking at the European Development Days, Melinda Gates called 2015 the most important year of development for a generation. She added that in September, UN members will agree on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015.

“Sometimes we tend to forget what an incredible landmark the MDGs were,” said Melinda Gates, stating that in 2000, they were launched as an experiment, nobody knowing for sure if they were able to make a difference. “Now we know,” she said.

“In the past 25 years, extreme mortality has been cut in half, child mortality has been cut by half, maternal mortality is almost down by half. Those are MDGs 1, 4 and most of 5. Now that the world [is converging on] a new set of SDGs, we know much more than we knew years ago, when MDGs were set,” Gates said, insisting that is important now is to get the SDGs targets right, and make sure that they are financed.

Innovation in behaviour

Melinda Gates said that the foundation which she set up with her husband, Bill Gates, in 2000, believed in innovation. In the beginning, she recounted, they believed it was enough to take brilliant people and apply their minds and resources. But, she said, innovation was not always a matter of technology, and that innovation in terms of behaviour change was no less important.

Focusing on technology, on R&D, is not enough. It is possible to create the greatest vaccines, but the effect is diminished if we can’t get a woman to allow polio drops in her child’s mouth, or shots in their arm, Gates said.

One of the best ways to reduce child mortality is to get women to breast feed, she opined, adding that one of the most innovative things she’d ever seen had come out of Vietnam, where a television campaign to promote breast feeding was run for several years. The impact was that in five years, breast feeding rates had tripled in Vietnam. This experience needs to be shared with the rest of the world, Melinda Gates explained.

Gates also emphasised empowering women, saying that to invest in women is to invest in the rest of the family. Women spend 90% of their earnings on families, on such things as school fees. “Women instinctively know what is right”, she said.

Financing SDGs

Part of the message of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that official development assistance (ODA), which several EU member states have reduced, is still very important.

“We need financing to support SDGs. It’s got to come for a mix of donors, governments, private sector and philanthropy. But for the foreseeable future we need to keep investing in ODA. We need to have citizens engaged, speaking to their governments. “I believe in making progress against poverty. I believe in making fewer children dying. The end of extreme poverty is within our reach,” she said.

Less than 1% of ODA is spent on nutrition, Melinda Gates said, adding, however, that the world was waking up to the problem. She argued that investment in collecting data was key to knowing how to act at country level.

Gates praised Germany, which had added the issue of food security to the agenda of the 7-8 June G7 summit meeting, as well as the UK, which hosted a landmark conference on nutrition two years ago and committed that for every one pound of funding, they will match two counts of their own funding, up to 280 million pounds.

“Bill and I said that’s a good time for us to step up with our investment. Our foundation will double-down on nutrition. We are [providing] $776 million for the next six years and we hope this will unlock more funding from other partners,” the philanthropist said.

Baroness Verma, the UK’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, spoke of the devastating effects of malnutrition on children, which causes lifelong effects, undermining societies and economies.

The British official said that she was delighted to be able to announce that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s commitment to double their nutrition spending will unlock a further 115 million pounds of further UK nutrition funding, until 2020. She also said that the Canadian government will provide a further 41 million pounds in aid for nutrition.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of half of all child deaths under the age of 5, and stunts the development of millions more every year. Ending hunger and achieving food security, and improving nutrition, are some of the Sustainable Development Goals expected to be adopted by the United Nations in September, as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.

European Development Days is Europe’s leading forum on development and international cooperation, bringing together some 5,000 participants from over 140 countries to find practical solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. It is organised by the European Commission.

The 2015 edition, which is the flagship event of the European Year for Development, takes place on 3-4 June, in Brussels.

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