Philippines suffers PHP220bn annual loss from child under-nutrition: UNICEF report
The report, entitled Economic Consequences of Undernutrition in the Philippines, was prepared in conjunction with the Department of Health, the National Nutrition Council (NNC), and the Philippine Legislators' Committee on Population and Development.
It said that despite the Philippines' economic growth rate being one of Southeast Asia's highest, "the nation's nutrition indicators continue to lag behind most countries in the region, creating a drain of about $4.5bn per year from the national economy".
Maria-Bernardita Flores, executive director of NNC, told local media that approximately PHP5bn was required each year for key interventions, particularly during the first 1,000 days of a child's life.
The report also stated that judging from benefit-cost ratios, every dollar invested to tackle under-nutrition would attract a $12 return.
UNICEF Philippines country representative Lotta Sylwander said at the launch: "Why is it so difficult for Congress and Senate to say we're going to invest $1 to get $12 back? Because that's really the return of this investment.
"Why is it that it seems that malnutrition in the Philippines is a sort of hidden issue that is not dealt with properly?"
She then told a reporter that nutrition is "not yet" a priority of the present administration, but said "there are actually several bills around the (first) 1,000 days, where nutrition really feature as a main issue, so there seems to be an increasing interest".
She further said politicians should "be bothered (and) concerned of the massive losses of money" detailed in the report's data on the costs of undernutrition, as it is "in their power to do something".
She added that regardless of one's political leanings, everyone should recognise the damage malnutrition does to the future of the country, and support initiatives to reverse the issue.
A push in the right direction?
Flores said the report was a "very important tool" that could push policymakers in the right direction in terms of setting aside a budget for better nutrition.
"We know what to do, we have the interventions, we have designed them, we know that they are going to be very effective.
"But we lack the scale; we don't get to reach 90% of the individuals or people who are affected, and therefore, we cannot really go beyond the normal coverage."
Also at the launch were house lawmakers, who argued in favour of investing in nutrition.
Jocelyn Limkaichong, representative for Negros Oriental's 1st District, said allocating a budget for nutritional interventions and programmes would show solid commitment on the government's part to improve overall nutrition.
"The passage of the First 1,000 Days (Bill) in the House of Representatives shows that nutrition is deemed as a priority. But the challenge is to make sure the law, when enacted, will have sufficient budget allocation," she added.
According to UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Joris van Hees, more than 29,000 Filipino children below the age of five die from undernutrition every year.