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December 15, 2017

Health for All Part 4: Improving Nutrition and Prevention for a Health-Promoting Society

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

This has been a key phrase in Saku Central Hospital, the core of community and preventive health in Nagano Prefecture, JAPAN, which today is known for its long life expectancy. Saku city, where the stroke mortality rate was among the highest in Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s, is well-known for having dramatically changed its health situation through joint efforts by health professionals and the community.

We would like to conclude this "Health for All" series by examining disease prevention and health promotion for healthy living through an overview of JICA’s nutrition-improvement activities.

photoA child in Cambodia washes his hands with tap water. Correct knowledge of nutrition and sanitation is the foundation of preventing diseases.
(Photo: Shinichi Kuno/JICA)

Nearly half of all under-5 deaths are related to malnutrition

"Undernutrition ... is a cause of 3.1 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths"

This data reported in the international medical journal The Lancet in 2013 stunned the world*1. Experts on nutrition have revealed that nutritional deficiency during the 1,000 days from the fetal period to the age of 2 increases the risks of diseases and delayed physical and brain development.*2

One of the targets of Goal 2 ("zero hunger") of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 is "end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age." This shows that nutrition improvement is a major development issue getting attention from the global community. Moreover, because nutrition improvement contributes to disease prevention and reduction of health expenditures, it is also an essential element of achieving Goal 3 (“good health and well-being”), and especially universal health coverage (UHC).

‘My Nutrition Calendar’ for maternal and child health

photoWith the "My Nutrition Calendar," pregnant women and mothers can easily check the nutritional value of their own meals. An illustration shows the amount of food needed in a day.

In Guatemala, 49.8 percent of children under 5 are chronically malnourished, the fourth highest percentage in the world. Particularly in El Quiché Department, where there is an overreliance on the staple food corn, child malnutrition is a severe problem. In this area, JICA has been supporting nutrition improvement activities through the Project for Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition Improvement since 2016.

For example, the “My Nutrition Calendar” was created for pregnant women and mothers to learn nutrition information such as the adequate daily amount of food. The information is mainly described in illustrations and pictures so that all people, including the illiterate, can easily understand it. Pregnant women and mothers can use this calendar from pregnancy until their child turns 2 to check their meals and understand what constitutes a balanced diet for their children and themselves.

photoGuatemalan dietitians and others learn how to make baby food that meets infants' nutritional needs in Saku, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.

In October, 10 health professionals including nurses and nutritionists from Quiché Department visited Saku city. They took a field trip to Saku Central Hospital and attended a practical session at the Saku Municipal Health Center on how to make baby food that meets infants' nutritional needs.

"I learned the importance of the government and the community working together for the prevention of diseases," said a participant.

In the future, participants will use what they learned in Saku to support nutrition improvement and the creation of a society that brings health for mothers and children.

Going beyond health care for a health-promoting society

"Why has Japan achieved and maintained a high level of health compared to other developed countries at a comparatively low cost? This is attributed not only to its excellent medical services, but also to its well-developed social infrastructure, balanced diet and the high level of health awareness among Japanese people," said Ikuo Takizawa, Deputy Director General of the Human Development Department, which is in charge of health projects at JICA.

"Therefore, it is important to create a health-promoting society. This includes not only the expansion of health services and financial protection, but also improving water and sanitation, nutrition, education and gender equality, and narrowing economic disparities."

The international conference "UHC Forum 2017" began in Tokyo on Dec. 12. Approximately 500 government representatives and healthcare specialists from Japan, developing countries and international agencies gathered to discuss promoting UHC. In addition to co-organizing the conference, JICA is organizing or co-organizing four side events.


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