Technical Director, Food Fortification Program, Pakistan
The COVID-19 pandemic has stunned and paralysed nations around the world.
In even the wealthiest countries, health systems have been overwhelmed and lockdown measures have left many people with little to no income, struggling to pay bills and buy food. Low- and middle-income countries are facing similar but greater challenges, compounded by already difficult conditions of poverty and inequality. This is resulting in a second crisis – a malnutrition crisis – that could hinder recovery efforts and undo years of hard-won development gains.
During the pandemic, food fortification is an important tool for reaching large number of people with better nutrition.
The availability of food is not enough to prevent malnutrition
The malnutrition crisis underlies the growing food crisis. With reduced purchasing power, many households buy the cheapest calories they can find, usually staples like rice, wheat flour or maize, that will satiate hunger but will not meet their nutritional needs. While they may feel full, they may be malnourished, jeopardising their current and future health and development.
During the pandemic, food fortification is an important tool for reaching large numbers of people with better nutrition. Fortifying staple foods with critical vitamins and micronutrients, like iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and folic acid, can help to improve the nutrition status of entire populations.
This is especially true for women and girls, who face the most barriers in accessing good nutrition and are twice as likely as men and boys to be malnourished. The United Kingdom has been a driver of development and large-scale food fortification, and this leadership must continue today to guarantee a healthy future tomorrow.
Poor nutrition increases the risk of contracting illnesses
The frontline of any country’s health system is the immune systems of its people. Poor nutrition prevents the brain from developing fully, the body from growing properly, and the immune system from functioning effectively, which exposes people to lifelong disease and disability. Food fortification can deliver micronutrients that help strengthen the immune system, resulting in enhanced resistance to infection and faster recovery from infection.
While the world is occupied by the emergency response to COVID-19, we must not lose sight of the long-term goal to build economies and health systems resilient and robust enough to withstand future crises. Food fortification and other nutrition interventions build better health and stronger immune systems now and ensure proper development later so people can not only survive – they can thrive.