In 2013, I was confronted by the realization of my country’s situation at a parliamentarian workshop organized by UNICEF where I learned about the different forms of malnutrition that we face. There, I discovered that my country, Cameroon, has an overall stunting prevalence of 32% for children under age five. In other words, one in three children under the age of five is affected. I now know of the devastating effects of malnutrition on the health of families, children and adolescents and consequently on the development of our country. As a parliamentarian, I’ve worked to serve my constituency and set up a community health insurance which helps improve the coverage of vulnerable children and young people. These challenges are our daily reality, but I was surprised to see them highlighted by the President of the World Bank in Washington, DC when I traveled there for the World Bank’s Spring Meetings.
During the recent Global Parliamentary Conference in Washington where more than 200 parliamentarians gathered, World Bank President Jim Kim stressed the need to invest in the early years of life. Achieving this goal helps to prevent stunting, a chronic form of malnutrition in which lack of proper nutrients early in life can cause poor physical and cognitive development, impacting children’s health, ability to learn and thrive in school, and earning potential and productivity as adults. I also attended a meeting of the group, Parliamentarians for Investing in the Early years, where I learned from exchanges with other parliamentarians interested in these issues, and shared ideas and tools to support efforts back home to boost investment in the potential of future generations.
I also attended the Spotlight on Nutrition Event: Unlocking Human Potential and Economic Growth event, co-hosted by the World Bank and DFID, where a panel of ministers and global leaders shared experiences from their countries on how to scale-up action on nutrition. I had the privilege to speak on behalf of our group, Parliamentarians for Investing in the Early Years, and make public our commitment to engage in the fight against malnutrition:
“We, the undersigned Parliamentarians met on April 19th at the World Bank. Our attendance at the meeting stemmed from a deep dedication to the inherently linked issues of the health, education, and nutrition of our nations’ children, and the impact this has on the development of our nations’ economies. We agreed to formalize a global group of parliamentarians to champion the early years, which over the next year would:
1) Meet with our finance ministers and finance committees to encourage greater investment in the early years and nutrition with a dedicated budget line;
2) Expand our partnerships with parliamentarians nationally and regionally for increased sharing of best practices and success stories;
3) Conduct global and local awareness campaigns through traditional media and social media to greater sensitize our constituencies;
4) Capitalize on opportunities to leverage additional financing for nutrition and the early years from all donors including the World Bank Group.
We hope that at October’s Human Capital Summit our efforts will show in the form of commitments from our respective finance ministers, Heads of State and the World Bank Group.”
In synergy with government action, the private sector, the media, and communities, we agreed that parliamentarians must take action. Given the reality of the situation in Cameroon, our country has put in place a number of tools and instruments to boost the fight against malnutrition including free health care for children under 5 years, improved infant feeding practices, and an intersectoral collaboration bringing together multiple ministerial departments including health, agriculture, education, women and families, and social affairs. I will continue to champion this work when I return home by meeting with the president of the national assembly, representatives of the budget committee and the Minister of Finance to increase our domestic funding by creating a budget line dedicated to the fight against malnutrition.
We know that smart investments in children’s health and development contributes to stronger, healthier, more engaged communities. These high-impact, cost-effective interventions exist, and will produce high returns for Cameroon’s long term economy, with benefits over the productive lives of our people. As a parliamentarian, I’m interested in the health and well-being of the people in my constituency. I am convinced that investing in children's health and development contributes to building stronger, healthier and more active communities. I return to Cameroon ready to increase my action and work to end stunting in Cameroon and I know that my fellow colleagues in more than 20 countries around the world, members of Parliamentarians for Investing in the Early Years, will work to increase commitments in their countries and announce them at the next Human Capital Summit. We must remember that "One bracelet around the wrist, cannot make noise." We must all act now – together – to ensure that we invest in the foundation of growth and development for our children.