Building a Global Conversation

Addressing multi-sectoral approaches to anemia reduction

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Anemia is a widespread global health problem, affecting people from all countries and all economic levels. Currently, about  half a billion women of reproductive age and 43 percent of children under five suffer from anemia, with the highest prevalence found in South Asia and Central and West Africa. Anemia is especially dangerous for the health of pregnant women, nursing mothers, and babies. A pregnant anaemic woman faces greater risks of complications during pregnancy and her child may be born pre-term or with a low birth weight. Anemia has also been linked to cognitive and developmental delays in children.

AnemiaDespite the high burden of anemia, it is often underrepresented in many national health plans.  This may be due to the complexity of the disease, which can have varied and often indeterminate causes and treatments. Thus, it is no surprise that despite years of efforts to reduce anemia, global prevalence has seen little decline, especially among children and women of reproductive age.

In 2012, the World Health Assembly laid out six global nutrition targets, one of which is a 50 percent reduction of anemia in women of reproductive age by the year 2025. To meet this goal much needs to be done, including raising awareness of the burden and complexity of anemia, as well as developing approaches to address the problem.

A new platform to discuss anemia

The United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN) initiated the Accelerated Reduction Effort on Anemia (AREA) as a targeted effort to improve health and nutrition by sustainably addressing the anemia burden.

The UNSCN and the World Health Organization (WHO) organized the first stakeholder meeting on AREA in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in June 2014, during the Micronutrient Forum Global Conference. This meeting brought together academics, country representatives, civil society, donors, and non-state actors to explore cross-cutting issues in anemia reduction, to discuss how partners can support improving anemia at a country level, and to share lessons learned.

Participants at the AREA meeting agreed on the need to create an informal network for sharing experiences with assessment tools, interventions, and capacity building, and for providing technical assistance to reduce anemia within countries.

Recognizing this need, the UNSCN and WHO partnered with the USAID-funded Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project, to create a moderated community of practice (CoP). WHO is also consolidating support for the CoP through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Along with providing a space for conversation, the AREA CoP builds consensus for anemia reduction at global, regional, and national levels, and encourages commitment to reaching the Global Nutrition 2025 targets. Since its formation in June 2015, membership in the AREA CoP has grown from 51 to over 300 members from across 42 countries.

Webinars are an effective way for members of the AREA CoP to share field experiences and anemia research with colleagues around the world. Since launching the community, the SPRING project has coordinated two webinars through the AREA CoP. On December 17, 2015 Esther Kariuki from Micronutrient Initiative and Hans Verhoef from Wageningen University presented on iron-folic acid (IFA) supplementation in Kenya, covering programmatic and research perspectives.   On February 24, 2016 Monika Bloessner from the WHO presented a hands-on briefing on setting a realistic national anemia target in line with the Global Nutrition Targets.

Future webinars will share country experiences around topics such as addressing adolescent anemia, or understanding the burden of hemoglobinapathies. Others will provide state-of-the-art updates on anemia-related research. Members are encouraged to contribute ideas for future webinar topics on an ongoing basis.

Moderators and members also circulate articles, reports, and even anemia-related job vacancies. The group is becoming more active and demonstrates great potential as a platform for members to share learning, collaborate, and advocate around anemia.

Take a look at the National Anemia Profiles

SPRING’s National Anemia Profiles are an example of an important resource that was recently shared via the AREA CoP. The profiles present a uniquely multi-sectoral view of the complex nature of anemia, using data compiled from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS).  Seventeen country profiles are currently available, showing national anemia trends for each country, and tracking the coverage of anemia interventions to see the effects of national anemia programming over time. Although, as a whole, countries have made little progress in reducing anemia, there are clear improvements in some programs to address anemia.  Visit the profiles to see where there have been increases in the use of treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria, improvements in household sanitation, and higher consumption of iron-rich foods among children aged 6 to 23 months, among other advances.

Countries can use the National Anemia Profiles to facilitate multi-sectoral planning to develop strategies to combat anemia. Because the National Anemia Profiles show effects of programming over time, they can also serve as a resource to track improvements in anemia programming or to pinpoint areas where improvement is needed. The graphs and infographics are downloadable, making them easy to add to presentations and reports.

Countries can learn from one another through communication about what works and what doesn’t to address unique anemia situations. This makes the National Anemia Profiles useful for advocacy work as well. By showing the widespread nature of anemia, the National Anemia Profiles reinforce the need for comprehensive anemia planning.

Join the conversation

Building communication and ensuring that anemia is a part of the global health conversation will help us move closer to reaching the World Health Assembly target of halving anemia by 2025. Join our conversation in the AREA CoP or contact us for more information at to stay up-to-date with the latest research and take part in discussions about how to address anemia at the global, country, and district levels. Working together, across multiple sectors and countries, we can achieve substantial results.   


About our Sight and Life guest bloggers:

The Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project is a five-year USAID-funded cooperative agreement to strengthen global and country efforts to scale up high-impact nutrition practices and policies and improve maternal and child nutrition outcomes. The project is managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., with partners Helen Keller International, The Manoff Group, Save the Children, and the International Food Policy Research Institute.

UNSCN is the food and nutrition policy harmonization forum of the United Nations. The UNSCN’s mandate is to promote cooperation among UN agencies and partner organizations in support of community, national, regional, and international efforts to end malnutrition in all of its forms in this generation.

WHO’s primary role is to direct and coordinate the UN’s system’s international health work in health systems; promoting health through the life-course; non-communicable diseases; communicable diseases; corporate services; and, preparedness, surveillance and response. The WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development’s work focuses on developing guidance on population dietary goals and evidence-informed policies and programmes; disseminating of and advocating for such policies, and programmes, and supporting country adaptation; and monitoring global trends in nutrition and supporting in-country surveillance.