The Executive Director of the National Nutrition Council (NNC), Dr. Azucena M. Dayanghirang, served as one of the four panelists during the webinar entitled "Micronutrients & Immunity: Fortified rice for healthy diets during COVID-19 in Asia."
During the panel discussion, Dr. Dayanghirang shared the successful implementation of rice fortification in Davao de Oro, where the provincial government was able to require the use of iron-fortified rice for school feeding programs. The sustained implementation was attributed to several factors including the presence of a local producer of iron-fortified rice in the province, the political support to implement mandatory rice fortification through the enactment of ordinances, the regular conduct of monitoring, as well as the continuous information dissemination on the use and importance of iron-fortified rice through nutrition education classes and nutrition counseling.
In terms of strengthening the implementation of rice fortification in the country,Dr. Dayanghirang noted that a resolution was approved by the NNC Governing Board in 2019. The resolution directs government agencies, non-government organizations and other stakeholders concerned to support the use of iron-fortified rice (IFR) in various social safety net programs of the country. This includes the use of IFR in school and day care feeding programs as well as providing fortified rice as part of food packs distributed during disaster relief operations. The Executive Director also emphasized that this policy measure hopes to contribute to the effective generation of sustained demand for IFR, which will encourage the rice industry to fortify.
Furthermore, Dr. Dayanghirang said that another law on institutionalizing a national feeding program for public daycare and elementary schools was enacted in the same year, which required the provision of at least one fortified meal per day for 120 days for malnourished children. This law is called Masustansyang Pagkain para sa Batang Pilipino Act, or RA 11037. Compliance to RA 11037 was said to compel the use of iron-fortified rice.
Currently, the NNC is preparing for the initial implementation of a national dietary supplementation program, beneficiaries of which are wasted and stunted children 6-23 months old and nutritionally at-risk pregnant women. Relative to this program, fortified rice will be produced and procured along with other fortified foods and will be distributed through various food distribution schemes such as dry ration, center-based, or home-based feeding.
The webinar held on 20 October 2020 was organized by the World Food Programme and DSM. The objectives of the webinar were as follows:
- To raise awareness on the role of micronutrients for health and the immune system in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- To highlight the importance of consuming fortified staples, especially by vulnerable people to ensure sufficient micronutrient intake in their diets in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread micronutrient deficiencies; and
- To promote learning and sharing of experiences in rice fortification across countries.
The webinar also aimed to shed light on the importance of micronutrients in strengthening the immune system in times of pandemic through discussions on the different opportunities to use fortified rice to support a healthy immune system and sharing of country experiences in regard to scaling-up consumption of fortified rice.
(Kristine T. Vitasa, EA, OED)