MANILA — The Philippines hopes to reduce stunting in the country by as much as 8 percent through the Philippine Multi-sectoral Nutrition Project (PMNP), which would be funded by a P10-billion loan from the World Bank.
The World Bank saw that stunting in children was “reduced by as much as 8 percent” three years after it implemented similar programs in other countries, Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters.
“Local government units can only access the grants if they reach the targets they will be setting,” she said.
“Sa mga LGUs that are lagging behind, may tulong tayo. We guide them. We provide assistance so they will be able to comply,” she said.
(We will provide help to LGUs that are lagging behind.)
The project will assess the quality and quantity of food distributed to indigent children, and monitor the local government’s push to maintain clean water sources, proper sanitation and housing conditions, among other factors that contribute to stunting and malnutrition.
Of the P10-billion loan, 70 percent will be downloaded to the Department of Health while 30 percent will be coursed through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Vergeire said.
DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian earlier described the initiative as “the most aggressive program to combat malnutrition and stunting in poorer municipalities” in the Philippines.
“This is different in the sense na this is holistic. Hindi siya feeding program lamang… It also includes the delivery of services to aid nutrition,” Gatchalian said.
(This is not just a feeding program.)
“It’s community-driven so they can tailor-fit their desired interventions depending on the situation in their area,” he added.
The DOH and the DSWD conducted a forum earlier this week to cascade the goals of the project to local government units, Gatchalian said.
“We want ownership on the side of the mayors...we want them to own the program,” he said.
“So in this forum we will engage our mayors and get their inputs to help us craft better project menus and guidelines,” he said.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the Philippines is investing in its people “who without question are the main drivers of our economy.”
“We must capacitate and hone them them to become industrious, potent and productive Filipinos who are strong, and resilient withstanding the rigors of citizen life to live long and to enjoy their lives in the process,” the President said in his speech.
“This is the reason why this administration has put high priority and consider it of strategic importance that lies in the areas of food security, health care and education amongst others. Sometimes we don’t think about it and therefore do not often realize it but lodge at the very core of all these is the aspect of good nutrition for our people,” he said.
The PMNP is expected to “deliver services straight to our LGUs most in need of intervention in the form of primary health support and nutrition services including early childhood care and development not to mention access to clean water and sanitation, technical information, training and financing, amongst other facets,” he said.
“And as if this was not enough, the program will also incentivize the participating LGUs… because if without their partnership, we do not get to what is often referred to as the last mile, and that is always the problem,” he added.
Marcos Jr. said he hoped that in the long term, the Philippine economy would be “driven by Filipinos with better bodies, better minds, fully equipped and ever ready for the challenges of the present and the future.”
“It is not to say that it is only the young that are vulnerable. other age groups are not spared from these nutritional problems,” he said.
“What is worse is insidiousness of the malnutrition problem. Malnutrition is in turn linked to long term adverse developmental impacts, taking its tool on our people’s learning ability, academic performance, all the way to productivity and employment opportunities and it also carries with it hereditary implications,” he said.
In 2019, one in three children below 5 years old suffered from stunting, according to a report from the World Bank.
This ranked the Philippines as the “5th among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest prevalence of stunting and is among the 10 countries globally with the highest number of stunted children.”
“For nearly 30 years, there have been almost no improvements in the prevalence of undernutrition in the Philippines,” it said.
“A Filipino child born today is likely to reach only 51 percent if their future potential economic productivity as an adult.”
Stunting in the Philippines is worse in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where 45.2 percent of children under five years old are considered as stunted, the World Bank said.
The Mimaropa, Bicol, and Soccsksargen regions follow the BARMM, with stunting occurring in 40 percent of minors below 5 years old in each of these regions.
The study also showed that in 2019, 20 percent of pregnant women in the Philippines suffered from anemia, while 38 percent of infants aged 6 to 11 months were found to be anemic.
Video from RTVM