THE United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) and the South Korean government joined forces to help the Philippines address malnutrition among children and pregnant mothers.

The National Nutrition Council (NNC), Unicef and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) recently concluded the commemoration of the 47th Nutrition Month in the Philippines.

The theme "Malnutrisyon patuloy na labanan, First 1,000 days tutukan!" highlighted the significance of the first 1,000 days of a baby's life.

The three agencies agreed that this phase in a baby's life is "a golden window of opportunity for setting the foundations of optimum health, growth and neurodevelopment with benefits that extend into adulthood."

They supported the call to action against malnutrition by highlighting the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition as a national framework.

The Philippines is in the top 10 countries with the highest number of stunted children, iron and iodine deficiencies affecting babies and pregnant mothers, and an increasing rate of obesity among those aged 11 to 19.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) has aggravated hunger and food insecurities brought about by community quarantines, which disrupted employment and livelihoods, health and nutrition service delivery, and food supply chains.

"As we close this year's Nutrition Month celebration, I urge all stakeholders and actors to reimagine what nutrition means for children at the time of Covid-19," said Unicef Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.

"For the Philippines to achieve the goal of optimum growth and development of every Filipino child, all sectors, including health, agriculture and food systems, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), and social protection, need to come together to implement high-impact nutrition interventions for every child," Dendevnorov said.

As a donor partner, South Korea, through Koica, has been actively supporting the Philippines' efforts to improve nutrition for young children and infants.

"The Korean government has been providing various forms of assistance throughout the Philippines, including in Mindanao, where one of the priority areas of assistance is scaling up critical actions in the first 1,000 days of life," South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Inchul Kim said.

"We hope these efforts will alleviate malnutrition and help build better lives for children," Kim added.

Dr. Azucena Dayanghirang, NNC executive director, said the Nutrition Month theme reaffirmed the call for continued multisectoral efforts to address malnutrition.

The theme emphasized the need "to scale up interventions" in the first 1,000 days through the strengthened implementation of Republic Act 11148 or the "Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act," amid the pandemic, Dayanghirang said.

The Philippines suffers from the triple burden of nutrition - undernutrition, "hidden hunger" or the lack of essential nutrients and obesity.