The extreme urgency of making Filipino kids stronger, brighter, taller



The appalling data cannot be ignored: 95 Filipino children die daily from malnutrition, 27 out of every 1,000 children do not get past their fifth birthday, one-third of all children here are stunted or short for their age, and stunting after age two can be permanent, irreversible and even fatal.

The grim statistics on the state of malnutrition in our country comes from UNICEF Philippines which said that stunting in the first 1,000 days is associated with poorer performance in school because malnutrition affects brain development and malnourished children are more likely to get sick and miss classes.

And when our students perform poorly, the consequences to the future of the Philippines can be devastating.

“The persistence of very high levels of childhood undernutrition, despite decades of economic growth and poverty reduction, could lead to a staggering loss of the country’s human and economic potential,” the World Bank (WB) said.

The WB also revealed that the Philippines’ Human Capital Index (HCI) of 0.52 “indicates that the future productivity of a child born today will be half of what could have been achieved with complete education and full health.”

Thus, if we are to secure our country’s future, the need for a strengthened nutrition intervention program nationwide is of utmost urgency and importance, especially during the Filipino child’s first 1,000 days of life.

To tackle the enormous task of ensuring our kids get sufficient nourishment that is so essential for them to grow and develop into productive citizens, the newly-formed Children’s 1st One Thousand Days Coalition (CFDC), which I head as over-all project chairman, needs all the help it can get to resolve the malnutrition crisis within 10 years.

More than 200 business groups  and non-government organizations (NGOs) working in unison with various government bodies comprise the CFDC. Among the CSOs are Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Knights of Rizal, Knights of Columbus, Philippine League of Government and Private Midwives, Brotherhood of Christian Businessman of the Philippines, Fraternal Order of Eagles, and many others.

The business groups and NGOs include the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Management Association of the Philippines, and Save the Children Philippines. On the government side are the Departments of Interior and Local Government, Health, Agriculture, Budget and Management. The National Economic Development and Authority, along with the major leagues of local government units (LGUs), namely: League of provinces, cities, municipalities, barangays, have been invited to be part of the coalition.

The CFDC held a national summit last Saturday at the Manila Hotel Tent City where DILG Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. said he will issue a memorandum enjoining all LGUs from provinces down to the barangays to welcome the CFDC for “joint and collaborative efforts to plan and implement the local nutrition intervention program.”

Other speakers at the summit meeting included former Chief Justice and World Vision chairman Reynato Puno, Rotary Club of Makati Central president Cris Chiong, former NEDA chief Dr. Cielito Habito, Rep. Anthony Rolando Golez Jr. of Malasakit@Bayanihan Party List; Rep. Angelica Natasha Co of the House Committee on Welfare of Children, UNICEF Philippines deputy representative Behzad Noubary, WB operations manager Achim Fock, DSWD assistant secretary Irene Dumlao, and Health asst. sec. Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho.
Another speaker was Dr. Marilyn H. Ortiz, consultant in child neurology of Philippine Children’s Medical Center and Child Institute for Neurosciences and Neurodevelopmental Center of St Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City, whose presentation on the “Impact of Malnutrition on the Human Brain during the Children’s First 1,000 Days of Life” was truly impactful.

“The first 1,000 days of life of children is critical,” Dr. Ortiz explained, because it is “the period of greatest plasticity or the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt to both structure and function in response to the environment.” She said the first 1,000 days is the period “when children’s brains are at risk of being compromised by undernutrition.”
Thus, it is vital for CFDC to spring into action. During the summit, we signed a covenant and pledged to do all in resolving the undernutrition crisis. Here are excerpts from that covenant:

“We want the Philippines to be that nation, acknowledging God's reward of children by caring for them through the first 1,000 days of life.

“We pledge to do all we can to arrest the appalling state of the nutrition, health and well-being of the nation's children by: Raising awareness among on the critical importance of securing the nutrition of children in the first 1,000 days of life; Accepting our social responsibility as individuals, corporations, organizations and government institutions, by adopting needy communities within our spheres of influence, providing direct nutrition and health intervention to mothers and children during the first 1,000 days of life, and refocusing government policies and programs to respond to the crisis…

“Our prayer is that, as we work together in unity, with God's blessing, we will see the coming generation of our nation's children stand before the world taller, brighter, and stronger.”

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