Tackling the Nutrition Paradox through Public-Private Partnerships

If Asia is a continent of dietary contradiction, it’s all because of the global nutrition paradox. United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s recent launch of its 2014-2025 Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy is one of the latest attempts to address the dual burden of over-consumption and under-nutrition. The Strategy seeks to bring stakeholders together to improve nutrition standards by focusing on collective efforts by governments and food manufacturing companies. The idea of harnessing public-private partnerships (PPP) is at its core.

Aligned with the 2025 World Health Assembly Nutrition Targets, the Strategy serves as a guide for the development of nutrition policies and programmes. These seek to save lives, build resilience, increase economic productivity and advance growth. Although the central focus is addressing the direct causes of malnutrition, USAID also highlights the threat posed by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as obesity. These are doubly detrimental, both burdening countries’ development and impeding nutrition efforts. Combating this diverse set of challenges will require cutting-edge and unified approaches in nutrition.

According to the Strategy, accelerating progress in addressing these evolving challenges means breaking down persistent barriers, creating new opportunities and changing the way nutrition is approached at the global, country, local and individual levels. This requires tapping on global expertise, and leveraging the unique skills of all public and private sector actors, to develop innovative, practical and cost effective solutions.

In the public sphere, USAID states that increasing political will is the key factor in progressing the nutrition agenda. Governments must prioritise health by establishing their commitment. This involves championing effective policies as well as providing human and financial resources. It means advocating for national budget increases for nutrition programmes and analysing the benefits of investing in nutrition (as well as the opportunity costs of not doing so).

The Strategy also recognises that connecting with a wide range of private sector actors will be critical in furthering this vision. With the increasing availability of commercial food options, effective PPPs can harness best business practices. This could mean better product innovations (maximising nutritional, safety and diversity value of food), consumer education (enabling informed choices through front-of-pack labelling on products) or communication campaigns (initiatives to promote physical activity and increase demand for safe and nutritious foods).

Dr Regina Moench-Pfanner, Regional Director for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), supports PPPs. She believes they provide a valuable platform to help foster a shared vision in tackling nutrition woes as well as a ‘bridge’ to overcome market and government limitations.

“Trust and openness are key to a successful PPP because each party differs in their internal vision and drive. In order to make PPPs for nutrition scalable, parties should understand that reasonable levels of return on investment are critical for success. Translating this into Asia will be vital,” said Dr Moench-Pfanner.

FIA is committed to boosting greater collaborative efforts in Asia, particularly in the ASEAN region, and believes that PPPs are the strongest, most cost efficient and effective vehicles to tackle evolving nutrition issues like NCDs. With more than 70 health and nutrition programmes underway around the region, FIA’s member companies are making a broad and deep commitment to improving health and overall wellness, empowering communities and raising quality of life.

Co-Chair of FIA’s Innovation Steering Group, Dr Petra Wissenburg from Danone believes that these collaborative programmes and initiatives show that PPPs are gaining traction and creating positive effects in this region.

“FIA welcomes USAID’s global commitment to building PPPs to improve nutrition. In Asia we are seeing an increase in efforts to build partnerships for positive change. Across industry, governments and civil society there are moves to develop platforms for collaborative efforts to improve health and nutrition. With these commitments in place, we are confident that collective interventions will seek to create, sustain and channel momentum for improved nutrition in Asia,” Dr Wissenburg said.

The task of creating a wide-ranging collaborative effort to have a significant positive impact on nutrition is clearly complex. It requires significant cooperation on all fronts, and experience suggests that without private sector engagement the global burden of over-consumption, and under-nutrition, is unlikely to be eradicated. A key unknown is how changing trends, economies and aspirations will contribute to this nutrition conundrum. However, the USAID approach of prioritising public-private partnerships presents a strong opportunity to tackle Asia’s health and nutrition challenges.

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