Researchers and experts at a public forum recently conducted by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) emphasized the significance of food security, nutrition, and equitable access to health and education services in ensuring the health and future of the Filipino family.

The forum—held in support of World Food Day—was the fifth installment of the Socioeconomic Research Portal of the Philippines (SERP-P) Network knowledge-sharing webinar series, which aims to serve as an avenue for evidence-based discussion of current and emerging development concerns, promote research networking, and assist its partners in disseminating their knowledge outputs.

PIDS Senior Research Fellow Valerie Gilbert T. Ulep presented the study, "The Determinants of Socioeconomic Inequality and the Trajectory of Child Stunting in the Philippines", which he coauthored with Supervising Research Specialist Jhanna Uy, Research Specialist Lyly Darylle D. Casas and research consultants Mario V. Capanzana, Alice Nkoroi, Rene Gerard Galera Jr., Maria Evelyn Carpio, and Frederich Tan.

"The 22-percentage point absolute difference between poor (bottom 80%) and nonpoor (top 20%) households makes the Philippines one of the countries in the world with the highest level of disparity in under-5 stunting," Ulep noted.

Based on decomposition analysis using the 2015 National Nutrition Survey, the authors found that the quality of prenatal care, the diet of the children, and the health and education of mothers are the main factors that contribute to the large gap in stunting between poor and nonpoor Filipino children, thus dispelling notions that nutrition is merely a function of food availability.  

"Chronic malnutrition is not only driven by food. Access to healthcare services matters. Even maternal education is important, as is the mother's health. A single solution cannot solve the problem of chronic malnutrition. We are missing the mark when using feeding programs only to combat chronic malnutrition. Although feeding is crucial, other factors also affect the outcome," Ulep said.

He recommended a holistic approach to solve stunting, such as improving impoverished women’s access to health services, addressing teenage pregnancies, increasing maternal education for better nutrition knowledge and economic opportunities, expanding social health insurance benefits to provide better coverage for low-income households, and strengthening the primary healthcare system to enhance access to essential health and nutrition services for mothers and children.

Meanwhile, De La Salle University-Social Development Research Center Fellow Mary Janet Arnado presented her assessment report for the UNICEF project "Implementation of Maternal, Newborn, Child Health and Nutrition Health Systems Strengthening for Indigenous Cultural Communities in Selected UNICEF Areas".

The project highlighted a service delivery network model for the improvement of health systems in selected indigenous cultural communities in Region 12 using a participatory approach by empowering them to become change agents.

According to Arnado, the indigenous people’s (IP) representatives were organized into a core group called "IP LEAD" and were given capacity-building exercises on analyzing the reasons for their limited access to health care and utilization of services, identifying and prioritizing potential solutions to the issue, and engaging them in activities to take the desired action.

Among the projects implemented were constructing a water system; information dissemination on water, sanitation, and hygiene; assisting with PhilHealth registration; purchasing an emergency vehicle; and reactivating the barangay health board.

While the project has already ended, Arnado said that "there are signs that some interventions will continue," noting that "the community’s sense of ownership and capacity to maintain the outputs may facilitate sustainability."

One of the positive outcomes of the project was that the IP LEADs are now knowledgeable on how to address their health concerns and who to approach in the government and nongovernment organizations for assistance. Another is the creation of the Datu Inda Water and Sanitation Association in one of the barangays that will ensure that the water system infrastructure the community planned to put up will be managed by the association beyond the project’s lifetime.

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