The late UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once said, “Without good data, we’re flying blind!”
The Together 4 Nutrition Data Forum took place in Senegal in February 2020. This data forum was a significant milestone towards the goal of “Making better use of data and generating better data for use” to inform and direct nutrition actions in West Africa. Four representatives from Nigeria, including government and partners, joined ninety other participants from governments, universities, research institutions, NGOs and donor institutions who work across the West Africa region. Participants shared experiences, challenges and opportunities around strengthening the nutrition data value chain in their contexts.
It was the first time that such a diverse group of data producers and users was convened to address improving nutrition data in the West African Region. The forum fostered:
The forum was organized around the steps of the nutrition data value chain with three sessions focused on specific steps and a fourth session on synthesizing information across the entire data value chain and using information for decisions. Sessions were structured to share experiences from country, regional, and global perspectives.
In recent years, Nigeria has demonstrated growing commitment to improving the availability and use of data by multisectoral nutrition actors. Together with partners, the government of Nigeria has sponsored annual fora for nutrition data since 2017 and has invested in new nutrition data collection through household surveys and administrative systems. On the opening day of the Together for Nutrition Data Forum, four panelists from Nigeria shared recent efforts to identify data gaps across sectors, prioritize indicators for the nutrition information system and collect new data via the budgeting process, the DHIS-2, and the ongoing planning of a National Food Consumption and Micronutrient survey. The panelists included: Dr. Kamil Shoretire, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Adeyinka Onabolu, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Mrs. Chito Nelson, Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning, and Mr. Dominic Elue, Federal Ministry of Health. The Nigerian representatives were active participants in the forum’s breakout sessions and small group discussions, which revealed that countries face common challenges but also have unique needs and priorities when it comes to nutrition data.
Panel discussion with represetnatives from Nigeria, Dr. Richmond Nii Okai Aryeetey of Ghana, and Dr. Rebecca Heidkamp of the US.
Mrs. Chito Nelson, Deputy Director/Head Food & Nutrition Division, Department of Social Development, Ministry of Budget and National Planning, reflected, “It was clear to most of the participants that data plays a critical role in advocacy and decision making. The challenge therefore is having a much more credible data source. Although, some people might likely oppose some statements or decisions, if based on reliable data, they might be convinced in due time.”
Breakout and group discussions were used to collectively shape a West Africa Regional “Call To Action” for countries, donors, and partners on common actions to improve nutrition data. Now we must embark on contextualizing this call for Nigeria, and collectively identify where in the data value chain we need to invest further. Some relevant areas of investment identified include:
Dr. Kamil Shoretire, National Project Manager, Accelerating Nutrition Results in Nigeria (ANRiN) project reported that, “The use of most recent data for planning nutrition interventions at the national and subnational levels, presented in a simple easy to understand format is very efficient for stakeholder advocacy and galvanizing needed actions against undernutrition and malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, the use of the SMART surveys in recent years have provided reliable data for planned actions to address nutritional problems and we are poised to continue improving on the indicators tracked during future surveys.”
The COVID-19 pandemic we are facing globally only heightens our need to prioritize developing strong data value chains that can support decision makers both in preparing for and responding to crises. We need timely data to demonstrate how COVID-19 impacts individual nutrition status, household food security, and the policies and programs governments had in place before COVID-19 as well as those being rolled out in response.
The session slides from the meeting can be viewed on slideshare here.
This post originally appeared on the Transform Nutrition West Africa website.
Namukolo Covic coordinates A4NH research in Ethiopia. Rebecca Heidkamp is in the Human Nutrition Division at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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