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In Masbate: ‘Whole-of-society’ approach to address child stunting

By Ernesto Delgado


MASBATE CITY --- Health authorities in Masbate are calling for a “whole of government, whole of society” approach to address child stunting in the province.


“We at the Department of Health Bicol Center for Health Development (DOH Bicol CHD) recognize your continued efforts as we make it a point to uphold a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach in providing quality and accessible nutrition services to reduce stunting and other forms of malnutrition in Masbate,” said Health Undersecretary Nestor Santiago Jr. during the Philippine Multisectoral Nutrition Project (PMNP) Stakeholders Forum in Masbate City.


Child stunting refers to a child who is too short for his or her age and is the result of chronic or recurrent malnutrition.


In a video message shown during the forum, Santiago, also concurrent director of DOH Bicol CHD, said that the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the DOH Bicol CHD offices in Masbate will focus on improving nutrition among children and pregnant women in their action plan for the current and next two years to accelerate the reduction of child stunting in Masbate.


He said the PMNP is being implemented in 16 of the province’s 21 municipalities “to improve the key behaviors and practices known to reduce stunting” in these localities.


Santiago said that although data from the National Nutrition Council indicated that stunting in Bicol decreased in 2022, the PMNP is needed to accelerate the ending of child stunting in Masbate.


“Faster progress is needed to achieve the target of reducing all forms of malnutrition among Filipinos of all ages by 2028,” Santiago said.


Dr. June Orense, provincial DOH officer for Masbate, said children who are stunted are shorter than what is considered normal for their age.


“We must address stunting because stunting primarily affects the development of the brain and physical growth of a child. It can result in long-term mental and physical consequences, ultimately depriving the child of the ability to enjoy a fulfilling life,” he said during a press conference held ahead of the PMNP forum.


Orense said the PMNP is a joint undertaking of DOH, DSWD, the United Nations, and the World Bank.


PLEDGE OF COMMITMENT Representatives of implementing agencies pledge their enduring commitment to actively participate and collaborate in the implementation of the Philippine Multisectoral Nutrition Project. Contributed photo/DOH Bicol CHD Communication Management Unit.


During the forum, various entities also pledged to collaborate with DOH Bicol CHD, DSWD, and the 16 municipalities to invest in ending child stunting.


The 16 towns include: Aroroy, Baleno, Balud, Batuan, Claveria, Cataingan, Cawayan, Dimasalang, Esperanza, Milagros, Mobo, Monreal, Pio V. Corpus, Placer, San Fernando and Uson.


The 16 were selected based on certain criteria, such as having a stunting rate of 17.5 percent or more, experiencing high poverty levels equal to or above 21 percent, having previous implementation experience with Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services), and being identified as a priority area for poverty reduction under the Philippine Plan of Action on Nutrition.


These areas will receive cash grants and commodities totaling P357,768,299 from 2024 to 2026.


To ensure proper management of project funds, the release of cash grants and commodities will be subject to the implementers’ performance.


The local governments will tap the experience of Kalahi-CIDSS volunteers in the planning and executing ways to increase the utilization of a package of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions.


These interventions are intended for women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.


“This is because children’s bodies and brains develop at a rapid pace during the first two years of their lives, which is also considered as the first thousand days,” Orense said.


“It is during this crucial period that physical stunting and cognitive impairment can occur if pregnant mothers and babies do not receive adequate nutrition,” he added.


The interventions will also be offered to children under five years old to sustain intervention and target the most stunted and undernourished children, giving them a fair chance to recover, Orense said.


While watching the forum’s live stream on her mobile phone, Regina carefully spoon-feeds her eight-month-old son fortified milk in a ward for malnourished children.


Her son is shorter than his age suggests and has been hospitalized five times already due to breastfeeding problems.


But Regina, who requested that her real name be withheld, is hopeful that the implementation of PMNP in her hometown will bring about positive changes.


NNC Regional Director Arlene Reario is equally optimistic about the project’s potential impact.


She believes that stunting rates will significantly decrease in the region, particularly in Masbate, within the next one to two years.


For many years, Bicol has had the highest incidence of malnutrition, and Masbate has consistently ranked among the top three provinces affected by this problem, Reario said.


“You know why I am saying that? Because the PMNP is exactly our goal. Suppose all our pregnant women, all those who are about to give birth, are given the right attention from everyone, from our barangay chairpersons to municipal mayors, from the province. In that case, I am sure that malnutrition in Masbate will go down, she said. PIA 5/Masbate

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