UNITLIFE, A United Nations Trust Fund to Prevent Chronic Malnutrition, Marks Official Launch

Despite affecting 149 million children globally, chronic malnutrition lacks both widespread attention and adequate investment


Global Program Created by UN Women, UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), Government of France, and the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court; UNITLIFE Leverages Innovative Finance and Partnerships to Protect the Next Generation from Chronic Malnutrition; The Condition Currently Effects 149 Million Children Worldwide, Limiting Future Growth and Potential; The COVID-19 Pandemic Predicted to Cause Widespread Increases in Malnutrition Due to Disruptions in Food, Health and Social Protection Systems.

UNITLIFE, the United Nations trust fund dedicated to preventing chronic malnutrition, was officially launched yesterday on the sidelines of the Generation Equality Forum. The announcement was made at a virtual event co-hosted by Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, France and H. E. Reem bint Ebrahim Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, United Arab Emirates.

Despite affecting 149 million children globally, chronic malnutrition lacks both widespread attention and adequate investment. Through innovative finance and partnerships, UNITLIFE seeks to close that investment gap to finance nutritious food systems and climate-smart agriculture, while empowering women and increasing their awareness about the vital importance of good nutrition for their children.

UNITLIFE was created by UN Women, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the Government of France, and the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, which provided $2.5 million USD of funding through Reaching the Last Mile (RLM), a portfolio of global health programs working towards disease elimination that is driven by the personal commitment of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

In his opening remarks Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “Food insecurity and malnutrition remain one of the greatest challenges of our century. While historic progress has been made, we unfortunately know that they remain insufficient.’’

“As you know France is taking determined action to reduce this scourge by focusing a significant portion of its efforts on pregnant or breastfeeding women or infants during the crucial 1000-day period surrounding the birth of a child,” continued Minister Le Drian. And to conclude: “We are therefore very proud to be a permanent member of UNITLIFE with, among other, UN Women, which contributed to the creation of this initiative with the support of UN Capital Development Fund. I would also like to hail the support of the United Arab Emirates’ continued support, a very decisive support in the development of this initiative.”

In her remarks, H. E. Reem bint Ebrahim Al Hashimy said: “I am honored to announce our support of UNITLIFE and the effort to protect millions of children around the globe who are vulnerable to chronic malnutrition. Reflecting the UAE’s decades-long focus on global health, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed is committed to creating a healthier future, particularly within the world’s most vulnerable communities.”

Al Hashimy continued: “UNITLIFE’s efforts to fight chronic malnutrition are steeped in innovation and sustainability approaches that the UAE shares. Our holistic approach to global development reflects an understanding that we can only uplift humanity if we first work to improve health and food systems and their quality.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need to combat chronic malnutrition even more acute. Disruptions in food, health and social protection systems are expected to result in an additional 2.6 million chronically malnourished children by 2022.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are no longer able to feed their children properly. However, nutrition is the foundation that gives children the best start in life, thereby allowing them to escape the cycle of poverty or conflict. This is why nutrition directly impacts the achievement of at least 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” said Ms. Verburg, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Since starting operations in February 2021, UNITLIFE has forged several innovative partnerships. Most notably, the organization has partnered with Ecobank Group, the Pan-African banking institution. During his speech, Mr. Ayeyemi, Chief Executive Officer of the Ecobank Group explained why private sector actors should engage with UNITLIFE: “The private sector cannot stand aside, on the contrary, we should be the cornerstone of the development of our societies in Africa. With technology and our platforms, we can give our customers the opportunity to contribute to the fight against chronic malnutrition. We can achieve this only if we act collectively.”

Closing the event, Philippe Douste-Blazy, UNITLIFE Chair and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, France, reminded the audience of the urgency of acting immediately: “We are on the eve of the Generation Equality Forum, 3 months from the UN Food Systems Summit, and 6 months from the Nutrition 4 Growth summit. It is the right time to galvanize our efforts.”

The virtual event featured a high-level panel attended by Gerda Verburg (Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement and United Nations Assistant Secretary General); Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (Executive Director, UN Women); Tala Ismail Al Ramahi (Associate Director, Office of Strategic Affairs, Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi); Ade Ayeyemi (Chief Executive Officer, Ecobank Group) and Preeti Sinha (Executive Secretary, UNCDF).

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