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All set for Sierra Leone’s first Health and Nutrition Fair

By Kemo Cham

All is set for Sierra Leone’s first health and nutrition fair.

The occasion which is slated for the Miatta Conference Center in Freetown this week end, is geared towards popularizing good nutritional lifestyles while promoting healthy living.

The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Secretariat, in collaboration with the Scaling Up Nutrition and Immunization Civil Society Platform (SUNI CSP), is behind the three-day events that will take the form of a float parade, a grand opening session and three days of exhibition.

The SUN, hosted at the office of the Vice President, is the Sierra Leone government’s response to a perennial problem of malnutrition. Its activities are manned by a coordinating office, headed by Dr Mohamed Foh.

“That the secretariat is located in the Office of the Vice President underscores the high level of political commitment on the part of government, as well as the value and importance we attach to the issues of health, food and nutrition security,” Dr Foh said at a press conference last week where the fair was officially unveiled.

The fair is being held on the theme: “Gud it en welbodi pass gentri”. Roughly translated in English, this means a healthy diet is better than material wealth.

The SUN is a collaboration between the government, civil society, international development partners, and the media. Among the international development partners is the United Nations family, comprising the children’s agency UNICEF, FAO, WFP, and WHO.

Alison Jenkins, UNICEF Chief of Child Survival and Development, speaking on behalf of the UN family, remarked that despite increased attention to under-nutrition globally and in Sierra Leone, it remained a devastating problem that affected the most vulnerable: infants, young children, adolescent girls and women. She cited the 2014 national nutrition survey which showed that over 12 percent of children under-five were under-weight, while 29 percent were stunted. The same survey indicated that malnutrition accounted for over one-third of deaths among under-five children.

“As such, we can see that under-nutrition is a violation of a child’s right to survival, growth and development,” said Jenkins.

The four UN agencies are key players in the fight against malnutrition in Sierra Leone across multiple sectors, including health, education, WASH, agriculture, and women and gender empowerment.

The directorate of the Nutrition in the ministry of Health and Sanitation is charged with formulating nutrition policies and strategies.

The vision of the directorate, said Ms Aminata Shamit Koroma, Director of Nutrition, is to ensure a healthy and well nourished population with communities and families well informed and empowered to take appropriate action on their food and nutrition situation. And the goal, she added, is to have a population whose nutritional status contributes to improved health, social and economic well-being, especially women, children and other nutritionally vulnerable groups.

“This first health fair … is a great opportunity to showcase our documents produced, activities conducted and interventions made at national and district levels, she said, adding that necessary linkages to other sectors in order to make necessary impact in addressing the multi sectoral nature of malnutrition would be displayed.

“In Sierra Leone we know that our diet is not really diet. We eat a lot of carbohydrates, we eat a lot of fat. This is a forum to discuss all these issues,” she added.

The health and nutrition fair which runs from April 29 to May 1 is the first of its kind in Sierra Leone. The organizers say the plan is to make it an annual event. It will take the form of cooking demonstrations, health screening, and dissemination of health messages. The presentations and exhibitions will be accompanied by entertainment.

The SUN was officially launched in 2012 and the civil society platform was created in 2014. The health campaign group, Focus 1000, co-chairs the platform, together with the international NGO Helen Keller International.

“Our health statistics are already bad, and the only way we can improve on them is by putting together these kinds of programmes,” said Dr Samuel Pratt, Programme Manager at Focus 1000.

Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh is expected to officially launch the fair, while the First Lady, Sia Nyama Koroma, will be making a formal speech.

50 booths will be constructed to be occupied by participating groups, from CSOs, to UN agencies, all showcasing their work in the country around the fight against malnutrition.

(C) Politico 26/04/16