Dr Brundtland, Madam Minister, on this 25th meeting of the SCN, I think we should realise that we have a wonderful example of civil society before us, and this has been part of the SCN from its beginning in 1977. I welcome our special guests, Dr Antezana, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tomris Turmen, and our Horwitz lecturer this afternoon, Isatou Jallow Semega-Janneh. I would like to welcome the SCN members from 15 UN agencies. I would like to welcome the members of the Advisory Group on Nutrition, of which Dr Ricardo Uauy is currently our chair. I would like to welcome the members of the Commission on Nutrition, of which Professor Philip James is chair. I would like to welcome the many loyal and supportive friends from bilateral agencies, with Elly Leemhuis-de Regt as their current focal point.
I would like to also welcome the assembled non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - I think we have 30-40 NGOs present and perhaps a good number more from within Norway. I would like to mention particularly Barbara Underwood of the International Union of Nutritional Science (IUNS) who is with us today. She is no stranger to the SCN and she tells me we now have three IUNS people as part of the structure of the SCN. I would like from within Norway particularly to mention Arne Oshaug and Inge Nordang. The reason we are here is because of the initiative that Arne took last year in Kathmandu at the last SCN Session. On the other end of the phone here in Oslo was Inge Nordang. Between them, they made the offer that has brought us here and I want to say to all of you, thank you very much for your part in getting the meeting started. I want to mention the Secretariat members: Sonya Rabeneck, our Technical Secretary, and Jane Hedley, Cathy Needham, Jane Wallace, and Arie Groenendijk, who have played such a major role over the last year.
This is the 25th meeting of the ACC/SCN. It is actually our 22nd year so you can say as we embark on our 22nd year that it is our 21st birthday. With the help of George Beaton, who has been digging around a little in the historical files, I would just like to say a word about the SCN - not so much to glory in the past, but to be inspired by some of the achievements that the SCN has made to practical action on nutrition worldwide. SCNs first meeting was held 21 years ago, in September 1977 in Rome, to a mandate established by the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). The first meeting was under the chairmanship of Graham Kermode of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). From the beginning, the structure of the ACC/SCN has involved what we now call civil society. At the moment, the UN, under the leadership of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is saying, How can we reach out? How can the UN be less of a group locked into itself just talking to itself? I hope you all feel proud to be part of the SCN which, since 1977, has been showing how that can be done.
From the beginning, civil society, the involvement of the advisory group of distinguished experts, and the bilateral agencies were part of the SCN as set down by ECOSOC. I want at this point to praise just a few of our founding fathers: Dick Heywood, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) and SCNs second chairman, who used to refer to the triumvirate of the SCN - the agencies, the AGN and the bilaterals; Sol Chafkin of the Ford Foundation, who chaired the AGN; and Leslie Burgess, who was the first Technical Secretary. But I want to call for special praise for an even earlier founding father who I am delighted to see is still with us and very actively involved-Professor Nevin Scrimshaw, who is representing the UNU, the United Nations University. Nevin was one of a group that decided there was need to bring the agencies together. He focused on the technical issues of nutrition and helped create, 20 years before the SCN, the Protein Advisory Group, formerly created by Dr Candau, then Director-General of WHO, co-sponsored by UNICEF and with FAO joining in from the beginning. We thank you for your vision. I am proud that we can now build upon that.
I want to note some of the achievements that we can see on the ground - those issues related to nutrition action that this committee helped bring into being.
First, the early mobilisation of action for the control of iodine and vitamin A deficiencies. Now major areas of action, we can say that with iodine deficiency there have been major and remarkable areas of success, and with vitamin A, there has been growing success. At our 11th meeting in Nairobi in 1985, a 10-year plan to control vitamin A deficiency was presented at the request of the SCN. I am also told that at that same meeting, Basil Hetzel was asked to prepare a paper on the control of iodine deficiency and to form a small working group to formulate a strategy.
Other highlights of the SCNs contributions include promoting nutritional concerns and monitoring the nutritional status of refugees and displaced persons, closely linked to the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Thirdly, holding symposia on key topics such as the symposium on Nutrition and Economic Adjustment in Tokyo, 1986, under the auspices of the UNU, which the IMF attended for the first time. Soon after, M. de Larosier, the Managing Director of the IMF, spoke on the need to incorporate nutritional concerns into adjustment policy. That speech was the first time their Director-General had spoken out on nutritional concerns. There was more interest in that speech, IMF colleagues told me, than any other that the Managing Director had given until that time. That was the first meeting chaired by Dr Abraham Horwitz, my very distinguished predecessor.
Fourthly, under Dr Horwitz, and with the support of then Technical Secretary, John Mason, the series of Reports on the World Nutrition Situation, which the SCN had long called for, started to be produced. We have three authoritative reports - the fourth is underway.
Fifthly and very importantly, the Nutrition Policy Papers (formerly State-of-the-Art papers) that drew on the experience of country-by-country action. Some were supported by the agencies-all are of importance for the agencies and the others in this civil society in addressing the question what can be done to accelerate action in nutrition? These are practical papers filled with important lessons and focused often on success stories.
Friends, all this has emerged from our work on collaboration and strengthening coordination. It has been far from perfect. We have had our differences. We have even had our fights. But at our best, we have made a big difference. But not enough. As you, Madam Minister, have just reminded us, there are still enormous problems of nutrition and challenges of undernutrition in the world today, and this is the focus for our meeting today. You have summarised the statistics of the children under five, with more than a quarter of the worlds children in developing countries under-nourished. Over half of women and girls suffer from anaemia; and 50-60% of children in South Asia are stunted. But we should come to our tasks today, not in a mood of despair, but in a mood of new determination, because in this room is a powerhouse of knowledge and experience, not only on what needs to be done, but on what can be done. We dont have all the answers, but let us not underestimate that we do have many of the answers. Any one of us could go down the list of things that we know have been applied in Tanzania, or have been applied successfully in Thailand, or have been used in Chile, but are not being carried forward in other countries to anywhere near the extent of this success. Last years Human Development Report noted that the world has made more progress in reducing poverty in the last 50 years than in the previous 500 years. We know a great deal of what needs to be done. The challenge is to mobilise ourselves to build on this experience, to identify the questions where we are not yet sure, but to make sure that in the next few years we do much more than present trends suggest.
I would like to end by quoting the words that were quoted often by Dr Abraham Horwitz:
Keep the faith that you are committed to a most noble
cause, the wellbeing of people, most of whom you do not know, whose needs you
Redouble your efforts in whatever you do in nutrition, while being bold and imaginative.
May that thought motivate and focus our minds today, tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, to make this 25th session of the SCN worthy of our heritage. Thank you.