Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food insecurity was highest in 7 in 10 or 74.7% of households with children and 8 in 10 or 80.8% of households with pregnant members than in households without such members.
The Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey (RNAS) of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) revealed this in a virtual presser on “Food Security, Coping Mechanisms and Nutrition Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic” on December 29, 2020.
“Employment, food security, food accessibility, access to health and nutrition programs for children, including pregnant women, are priority concerns during pandemics and disasters in areas covered by RNAS”, DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña stated.
Secretary dela Peña added that “these priority concerns may increase the percentages of nutrient deficiencies and undernutrition, leading to frequent illness that weaken the immune system, that increases susceptibility to COVID–19 and other viral infections resulting to tremendous medical cost, lost opportunities, and economic drain”.
“The DOST’s call to action in terms of policy implication based on these results is that donations, government services and benefits must be decentralized from the Highly-Urbanized Cities (HUCs) and extended equitably to provinces with less resources and with minimal or no benefactors”, dela Peña emphasized.
“The Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey (RNAS) provides a snapshot of the nutrition and food security situation of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic”, according to Dr. Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa, DOST-FNRI Chief Science Research Specialist, Scientist II and RNAS Project Leader.
Dr. Agdeppa further stated that “findings of the RNAS can aid policymakers in understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food and nutrition security of Filipinos and guide reprogramming and enhancing of appropriate programs”.
According to the DOST-FNRI study, about 2 in 10 or 16.7% of household heads lost jobs, and this was highest at 18.1% in COVID-19 high-risk areas.
However, about 17% had job opportunities, and this was highest in COVID-19 medium-risk areas at 18.6%, mostly service- and agriculture–related, the study revealed.
The survey further revealed that 6 out of 10 or 62.1% of households experienced moderate or severe food insecurity.
Food insecurity was higher in low- and moderate-risk than in the high-risk areas because high-risk areas are in Highly-Urbanized Cities (HUCs), where food availability and accessibility might be easier due to local government unit (LGU), national government, or private assistance.
*Based on IATF announcement on July 15, 2020 and number of COVID-19 positive cases from the DOH NCOV tracker as of July 16, 2020.
According to the survey, the top coping strategies to avail of foods adapted by food-insecure families included purchasing food on credit (71.8%), borrowing food from relatives and neighbors (66.3%), barter or exchanging goods (30.2%) and, adults limiting amount of food intake in favor of children (21.1%).
Problems encountered by more than half or 56.3% of households in accessing food during community quarantine involved no money to buy food (22.1%), no public transportation and can’t go out (20.9%), and loss of job (19.5%).
The following were the intervention programs availed of by RNAS respondents during the pandemic:
•96.6% received food assistance or “ayuda” from LGUs and other private and/or non-government organizations (NGOs), of which 48.9% received it 2-3 times.
•Increased frequency of “ayuda” was noted in high-risk areas, of which 51.7% of surveyed households received it 4-7 times,
•Only 2-3 times of “ayuda” were received by 57.6% of respondents in low-risk areas and 51.2% by medium-risk areas.
•62.9% of households received cash assistance from either the national or local government units, of which more than half (58.7%) received it once.
•About 56.4% of respondents in the high-risk areas received cash assistance 2 times.
•In low-risk areas, 78.2% of surveyed households received cash assistance only once.
Basic nutrition and health services were also affected by COVID-19, as indicated by the significant reduction in the Operation Timbang (OPT Plus), vitamin A supplementation, supplementary feeding and deworming program participation as follows:
•OPT plus- 51.1%
•Vitamin A supplementation- 54.9%
•Supplementary feeding- 11.9%.
Gaps in accessing health facilities for maternal health services during pregnancy was likewise evident as:
•15.5% of pregnant women had no prenatal check-up because:
-39.1% expressed fear going to any health facility,
-34.8% had no available transportation,
-13.0 % were not aware of current pregnancy,
-13.0% had no money to go to nearest health facility and
-13% were busy, had no time, or were not interested.
In addition, the Barangay Health Center was reported by 69.6% to be the most accessible health facility for maternal health services, followed by private clinics (23.2%).
The survey also noted that 14.2% of pregnant women did not take vitamins and minerals supplements.
Fortunately, the pandemic did not affect drastically breastfeeding practices because:
•59.7% of children 0-23 months were currently breastfed during COVID-19 pandemic.
•60.8% of children 0-5.9 months were reported to be exclusively breastfed.
However, among mothers and caregivers who had access to breastfeeding and complementary feeding information:
· Only 20.1% of mothers an caregivers had access to breastfeeding and complementary feeding messages.
Of interest to our media partners and DOST information officers as well are the sources of information on breastfeeding and complementary feeding that included:
67.1%- Healthcare facilities
22.8%- Social media
13.9%- Printed materials
The RNAS also revealed the mothers’ perception and knowledge on child stunting as follows:
•19.7% of mothers from the food-insecure families perceived their children to be stunted or short.
•80% of mothers reported their children are not getting taller (“hinditumatangkad”).
•23.4% reported their children had lost weight.
•66.7% said their children are stunted due to inadequate food intake.
•39.4 % said hereditary or genetic influence was the cause of stunting.
The DOST reiterated that donations, government services and benefits must be decentralized from the Highly-Urbanized Cities (HUCs) and extended equitably to provinces with less resources and minimal or no benefactors.
Programs and projects are also being rolled out nationwide by the DOST to help cushion the impact and help Filipinos cope with the challenges of the pandemic and disasters.
The provincial and regional offices of the DOST are the public’s access to these services, DOST Secretary dela Peña said.
For more information on the RNAS study and other food and nutrition concerns, contact: Dr. Milflor S. Gonzales, Officer-in-Charge, Office of the Director, Department of Science and Technology - Food and Nutrition Research Institute, General Santos Avenue, Bicutan, Taguig City; Telephone/Fax Nos: 8-837-2934 or 8-837-3164; Direct Line: 8-839-1839; DOST Trunk Line: 8-837-2071 local 2296 or 2284; e-mail: email@example.com; DOST-FNRI website: http://www.fnri.dost.gov.ph. Like our Facebook Page at facebook.com/DOST.FNRI or follow our Twitter account at twitter.com/DOST_FNRI.