Ricardo Uauy, President of the International Union of Nutrition Sciences, urged over 4,000 of the world's leading nutrition experts from 100 nations attending the Congress to move one step further in their battle against global malnutrition today with a 'Yes we can' and 'Yes we will' attitude.
Gathered in the modern BITEC conference facility on the outskirts of Bangkok, and clearly inspired by another President many oceans away, his words reflected the spirit of most conversations I heard today. His call to action was clear – translate knowledge into action and go beyond the science of "what to do" to fight child malnutrition to focus on the “how to do (it)” . The “how”, he said, requires joining forces with those outside the nutrition community – economists, leaders, politicians.
Seize the moment
“Seize the moment to take the world down a path where undernutrition does not exist.” In a particularly impassioned plea, Dr. Tadataka Yamada, President of the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recalled holding a baby breathing an astonishing 150 breaths minutes in a rural Mozambique hospital.
A physician, Yamada briefly imitated the rapid breathing, explaining how it was the biological response of severely malnourished baby also afflicted with malaria attempting to obtain enough oxygen to survive. Though millions suffer from malaria, those who are malnourished, like the child he held, are the ones who are least likely to survive. Adequate nutrition is essential.
After the morning session, Martin Bloem, Chief of WFP Nutrition Policy, and I sat in the corridors and talked about how symbolic it is that this year’s ICN - which focuses on “Nutrition Security for All” - is being held in Thailand. This is a country, he said, that dramatically reduced malnutrition rates in the 1980s to 1990s as a result of leadership that helped transform a nation. He was referring to the leadership of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who also attended the ICN, in addressing child nutrition.
The determined efforts of a generation of nutrition scientists trained in the 1970s, such as the ICN Chair Professor Kraisid Tontisirin, helped change history for the better in this country. How interesting that the overriding message from this ICN comes from outside the BITEC conference center as well as inside.
Though the ICN was what we came here for today, it was the tragic news of the bombing of the WFP offices in Pakistan and the death of our colleagues that remains most on our minds tonight. Shocked and saddened, we poured over our Blackberries and news reports to hear the latest reports.
One WFP staff member attending the Congress – Pablo Recalde from the Zambia country office – had an inspiring and touching message for the rest of us. He said we must continue our meetings here despite the shocking news. “Let us not forget that many have paid a huge price for what we have now,” he said.