Picture12020: A challenging yet fulfilling year despite the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.  This year marks the busiest days of the 5-member RO3 Team of the National Nutrition Council (NNC)-Region III as the team embraced the challenge of nutrition advocacy with elected Local Chief Executives (LCEs) who Chairs the provincial, city and municipal nutrition committees on the WHYs of investing in nutrition and in integrating nutrition in their Local Development Plans and Annual Investment Programs (AIPs).

There are seven (7) compelling reasons on why Local Government Units (LGUs) need to put high priority to nutrition and make significant investments in nutrition. These are as follow: 1) Alarming nutrition problem; 2) Embarrassment for a middle-income country; 3) Cost of malnutrition to the economy; 4) Negative impact of malnutrition on development; 5) Returns to investment in nutrition very high; 6) Intervention to address malnutrition exists; and 7) Nutrition is a child right and an integral part of the United Nation (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Philippine Development Plan (PDP). Supportive policies for LGUs to invest in nutrition exist.

The “very important persons” we are targeting in this endeavor are the undernourished children, pregnant and lactating women, and the nutritionally at-risks families in Central Luzon. The LCEs and the members of the local nutrition committees up to the barangay level are also considered our “very important partners” in ensuring the integration of nutrition in their 2021 AIP, for the continuing effort to secure the outcome targets of the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2017 – 2022 in the current and post-pandemic situation. There are 32 priority provinces identified under the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster (HDPRC) in the country.

The national team of planning facilitators from the Nutrition Policy and Planning Division (NPPD), and the PHL 04 team conducted a series of meetings with the NNC-Region III team and members of the regional technical working group of the Regional Nutrition Committee of Central Luzon to form as regional team of planning facilitators (RTPF).

The Province of Nueva Ecija led by Dr. Josefina J. Garcia, as the acting Provincial Nutrition Action Officer and Ms. Iluminada R. de Guzman, District Nutrition Program Coordinator, together with the NNC-Region III Team organized four (4) batches of NNC online workshops for the Province of Nueva Ecija from August to September 2020 as follow: First batch – August 17-19; second batch – August 25-27; third batch – September 8-10; and fourth batch – September 16-18, 2020. All four (4) batches were participated by the provincial/city/ municipal nutrition action officers, health officers, planning and development officers and budget officers, and few staff from the nutrition office.

A three-day workshop to integrate nutrition in the AIP was adapted for delivery through online platforms as a mitigating measure following the suspension and limitations in the conduct of mass gatherings such as workshops and trainings due to the COVID-19 pandemic experienced across the country.

The NNC-Region III Team did not only reach out to the 32 LGUs of Nueva Ecija, as a priority province under the HDPRC, but extended technical support as well to non-HDPRC provinces in Central Luzon, namely Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales and the other 9 components and highly urbanized cities. Hence, eight (8) more batches of both NNC-online and face-to-face workshops were completed as follow: 5th and 6th batch – onsite workshop of Tarlac Province and Tarlac City and 9 municipalities on October 13-14; 7th batch – online workshop of Bulacan and its three (3) cities on October 19-21.

The most challenging event that the NNC-Region III had engaged in was the simultaneous onsite  workshops, marked as the 8th, 9th, 10th batches involving the cities of Malolos and Mabalacat, Pampanga Province and the 11th batch, an online simultaneous workshop for Zambales and Pampanga Provinces on October 26-28, 2020.  The 12th batch was attended by participants from the Aurora Province on November 17-19, 2020; and the 13th and last batch was a face-to-face or onsite workshop for the 11 LGUs of Zambales Province on December 2-4, 2020. Thus, a total of 13 batches were conducted from August to December 2020.

The 5-member NNC-RO3 Team, together with the members of the RTPF found the conduct of online workshops possible but challenging as it was not as interactive as the face-to-face or the traditional physical platform. But as the saying goes, all is well that ends well.

The RPTF’s hope now is for the LGUs not just to keep this noble commitment on integrating nutrition in their annual investment programs but to put them into doable actions in order to save the real “VIPs” or the “very important persons” in the community: the children, women and the nutritionally at-risk members of the families and communities.

By: NO III Angelita M. Pasos