During the latest Woodrow Wilson International Center Dialogue on maternal undernutrition, Amy Webb Girard highlighted some effects of maternal undernutrition. Anemia, increased susceptibility to infection, depression, fatigue, low work productivity, and poor cognitive development can plague undernourished women. Just as undernutrition has a widespread effect on women’s lives, the root causes of undernourishment are varied and spread across a variety of sectors and areas of programming. In fact, addressing maternal undernutrition with a multi-sector approach was emphasized many times during the policy dialogue.
Instead of viewing maternal nutrition in isolation from other maternal health programs, maternal nutrition programs can be combined with other programs to increase the chances of maternal nutrition success. Handing out iron supplements to anemic women who come for antenatal care is not effective if women only seek antenatal care late in their pregnancies, preventing them from taking the full course of iron and folic acid supplements.
Similarly, encouraging women to take iron supplements is not useful if hospitals and health clinics do not keep enough tablets in their facility. Combining maternal nutrition programs with, for example, health facility strengthening programs can improve not only the care women receive but also the nutrition women receive from these facilities.
How can we ensure that nutrition becomes a critical component of maternal health-focused programs? Although integrating maternal nutrition into a variety of programs is a promising approach, there are a number challenges to integration. Among these challenges, and highlighted by Doyin Oluwole, it can be difficult to keep stakeholders engaged with maternal nutrition, especially as stakeholders must content with shifting and competing priorities.
Despite these challenges, it appears that addressing maternal undernutrition as a multi-sector issue could lead to promising change for women.