Two young children died the other day because they ate rotten food recovered from a garbage can and brought home by their father. “As the cliche goes, they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. They’ll die of starvation if they don’t eat, but they’ll die anyway if they eat the garbage that they are able to scrounge from the trash cans.”
The malnutrition prevalence among children in the Philippines has remained alarmingly high in the last 10 years. Results of the 7th National Nutrition Survey conducted by Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2008 showed that there are still about 3 out of 10 children ages 0 to 10 years who are underweight (26.2% for children ages 0-5 years old and 25.6% prevalence for 6-10 years old).
From “As I See It” By Neal H. Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 22, 2004
About the same proportion (27.9% and 33.1% respectively) are under height which indicates chronic or long-standing malnutrition. Comparison of the two recent nutrition surveys in 2003 and 2008 revealed that prevalence of acute or severe cases of malnutrition has increased from 5.3% to 6.1%. Being underweight increases the risk of death and inhibits cognitive development in children. This translates to about 8 million Filipino children whose future and our country’s future are at stake.

The FNRI survey also revealed the regions which have the highest and lowest prevalence of malnutrition. Top 3 regions which have the highest malnutrition rate among 0-5 year-old children are (1)Bicol 33.8% (2)Zamboanga Peninsula 33.2% and (3)MIMAROPA 33.1%. For 6-10 years old, the list again includes (1)Bicol 34% and (2)MIMAROPA 33% with (3)Western Visayas 32.2% at the third spot. On the other hand, regions with the lowest malnutrition prevalence rate include (1)NCR 20.7%, (2)Central Luzon 20.2% and (3)CAR 19.9% for children 0-5 years old and (1) Cagayan Valley 19.2%, (2) Central Luzon 18.1% and (3)CAR 14.5% for 6-10 years old.

According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition prevalence of 5% is considered of public health significance. The prevalence rates of underweight and under-height among our Filipino children based on FNRI study are of high magnitude; they are definitely considered of public health concern. This calls for a more focused action on the part of the government as well as of the private sector to address the problem seriously.

To help mitigate this problem, the Pondo ng Pinoy Community Foundation (PnPCFI), then headed by Cardinal Gaudencio B. Rosales and 13 other bishops launched the HAPAG-ASA Integrated Nutrition Program in July 2005 in partnership with Assisi Development Foundation (ADFI) and Feed the Children Philippines (FTCPI). Recently, CBCP-NASSA Caritas Filipinas Foundation, Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) and Risen Saviour Missions (RSM) joined the efforts of Hapag-Asa in fighting malnutrition in the Philippines.
HAPAG-ASA feeds 6 months to 12 years old undernourished children, underweight pregnant and lactating women in the community once a day, five days a week for 6 months. Each meal is enriched with nutrients through the provision of Food Supplements complete with vitamins and minerals. These are Vitameal from FTC and MannaPack Food Supplements from FMSC through RSM. Vitameal is a mixture of rice and lentil, MannaPack Fortified Rice is made of rice, soya and dehydrated vegetables while MannaPack Fortified Potato is made of potatoes with sweet potato flavor.
Apart from the supplemental feeding, education classes and livelihood and skills training for parents, aimed at sustaining the improved nutritional condition of the children are conducted simultaneously. The education classes cover topics on affective parenting, health and nutrition, responsible parenthood and values and livelihood. Livelihood and skills training are conducted with small capital lent to help them help themselves and their children, in partnership with government and non-government organizations.

The program is primarily implemented through the Church with more than 30 dioceses nationwide carrying out the program. But this is not solely a Church matter; other sectors like non-government organizations (NGOs), foundations and local government units (LGUs) have also been inspired to take on the cause and adopted the program.