Nutrition surveillance systems: their use and value

Nutrition surveillance systems: their use and value

The detrimental consequences of child undernutrition are well documented. The fact that the effects of undernutrition early in life are largely irreversible means that quick and effective action is crucial. Large-scale surveys that take place every few years are useful for mapping national and global trends, but their infrequency and the time lag before obtaining findings, and their aggregated nature, mean other sources of data are needed for policy and programme decisions which need to be taken quickly. Nutrition surveillance systems that collect regular and representative primary nutritional data can provide such information. Unfortunately, such systematic processes for tracking trends within countries only exist in a few countries. Methods used vary greatly and there is little research into their effectiveness and value.
 
The aim of this study was to review past and current nutrition surveillance systems that involve anthropometric data collection in low-income countries, in order to examine their role in nutrition surveillance. The findings are based on a review of published and unpublished literature, and interviews with key informants.
 
The report concludes by looking to the future of surveillance systems:
  • traditional approaches to surveillance may not be optimally effective in urban areas, and so taking the local situation into account when designing surveillance activities is essential, so that policies andprogrammes most relevant to the urban context can be formulated
  • developments in real-time monitoring (RTM) have obvious advantages for timely warning of deteriorating nutritional conditions, while less obvious is the need to adopt common guidance on quality and equity, given the potentially conflicting priorities related to the necessary partnerships between public and private stakeholders
  • capacity-building, improving communication and strengthening existing systems are essential for increasing the utility and cost effectiveness of future nutrition surveillance activities
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