UNESCO and the WFP unite for school health and nutrition to help children bounce back after school closures

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have renewed their partnership aimed at strengthening health and nutrition programmes for school children and will unite their expertise so that children and young people can learn, grow, and contribute to the future of their countries.

As schools re-open, school health and nutrition programmes are more important than ever because they help stop children going hungry, ensure they get nutritious food, provide powerful incentives for parents to re-enroll children in school, and increase retention rates, especially among girls. This helps address one of the biggest learning crises in history.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding signed today, UNESCO and WFP will advocate for the education, health, nutrition and wellbeing needs of school-aged children and young people. They will also promote the importance of cross-sectoral responses and school health and nutrition to help children recover from this pandemic and achieve their potential.

Through a combination of advocacy, research, and policy and programming, the organizations will support school health and nutrition initiatives across the world, towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, the importance of good nutrition and health to ensure all children and young people have access to and can take full advantage of learning opportunities cannot be underestimated.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting school closures, has emphasized the interrelationship between education and health. We have seen that schools are not only essential to deliver education but provide a vital social space and deliver key services like school feeding, vaccinations, and health education, which are central to learners’ health, sense of belonging and wellbeing,” Ms Giannini said.

“We look forward to strengthening our collaboration with the World Food Programme, to coordinate and align efforts and investments to step-up effective school health and nutrition with partners and ensure all children and young people fulfil their right to a quality education.”

World Food Programme Assistant Executive Director, Valerie Guarnieri, added that, even before the pandemic, more than 73 million children in extreme poverty were attending school on an empty stomach, preventing them from concentrating and learning in school. Many more children did not even attend school because of preventable and treatable illnesses and malnutrition, translating to an equivalent 500 million schooldays lost to ill health each year; the COVID-19 pandemic has made a bad situation worse.

“Nations need to scale up integrated school health and nutrition programs, including school feeding to address the global learning crisis. Children who relied on these daily school meals have been severely impacted during school closures. Restoring school health and nutrition programmes as schools re-open is vital to building better education systems and also food systems that boost local economies, and support people and communities.”

“We look forward to strengthening our relationship with UNESCO. Together, we will work with UNICEF and other partners to restore access to school health and nutrition programmes and scale up where children need this support the most.”

UNESCO and WFP will also monitor global progress on school-age children and adolescents’ health, nutrition and wellbeing and inform education policy and programming. At the regional and country levels, the agencies will work with partners to support governments to advance multisectoral policies and programmes that address learners’ needs and strengthen national education systems.

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