Cairo: This week on Monday, witnessed the launch of the ‘Partnership for Healthy Cities' initiative in a selection of government primary schools in Cairo Governorate. This initiative is a joint effort between the World Health Organization, the Ministries of Health and Population, Education and Technical Education, Cairo Governorate, and the Egyptian Food Bank. Its aim is to safeguard citizens' health from non-communicable diseases by providing the necessary equipment and supplies for school canteens to offer healthy food options.

The inauguration was attended by Dr. Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Minister of Health and Population, Dr. Reda Hegazy, Minister of Education and Technical Education, Major General Khaled Abdel Aal, Governor of Cairo,  Dr. Nima Abid, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Egypt and Mohsen Sarhan, CEO of the Egyptian Food Bank.

In conjunction with the initiative launch, the Egyptian Food Bank will provide healthy foods, adhering to food safety standards, operate the school canteen, and conduct interactive activities to promote health messages in selected schools, as part of EFB's 'School Nutrition' program. This program plays a crucial role in EFB’s prevention pillar initiatives aimed at preventing malnutrition in newborns and children up to 12 years old. It focuses on transitioning from treatment-oriented policies to preventive measures, targeting the reduction of food insecurity.

Dr. Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Minister of Health and Population, stated that the 'Partnership for Healthy Cities' program aligns with the ministry's and the Egyptian government's efforts to improve the health of future generations. This includes the launch of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's initiative to combat obesity, anemia, and stunting among children in schools, among other initiatives and programs aimed at fostering a disease-free future.

As part of the initiative, the World Health Organization assessed the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of students, teachers, and the school community regarding healthy nutrition. Based on the assessment results, educational materials were designed and prepared to raise awareness among the school community about healthy nutrition, along with a wide range of interactive educational games for children.

Dr. Reda Hegazy, Minister of Education and Technical Education, noted that this initiative has taken significant steps to improve the nutritional environment in targeted partner schools. Necessary changes were made to school canteens to provide healthy alternatives to elementary students in 15 schools in Cairo Governorate. Educational materials were designed, printed, and distributed to the school community based on a study of the nutritional knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of students and school staff. Coordination was also made with the Egyptian Food Bank to provide fresh food in school canteens, applying WHO food safety standards.

Dr. Nima Abid, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Egypt, stressed that individual health is influenced by a complex interplay of biological factors, encompassing physical, mental, and psychological dimensions, as well as environmental, behavioral, social, and economic determinants. WHO is committed to supporting governments in creating a healthy environment and working to reduce exposure to risk factors leading to non-communicable diseases and injuries. Given that non-communicable diseases account for about 84% of deaths in Egypt, it was important to address the most prevalent risk factors, notably unhealthy nutrition. Hence, the importance of the initiative in educating and changing the behaviors of youth and future generations regarding healthy nutrition.

Major General Khaled Abdel Aal, Governor of Cairo, highlighted that this initiative aims to transform children's health awareness, introduce innovative approaches to enhance the nutritional environment, improve children's health, mitigate chronic diseases in the long term, and equip teachers with the tools to address children's misconceptions and habits by implementing healthy practices in schools participating in the Healthy Cities project. Furthermore, it involves educating on proper nutrition.

Mohsen Sarhan, CEO of the Egyptian Food Bank, stated that the bank was keen to participate in the 'Partnership for Healthy Cities' initiative in collaboration with official authorities and local and international organizations to align its strategic goals with the EFB's 'School Nutrition' program. The program aims to provide healthy and safe school meals for children to meet their basic nutritional needs, reduce malnutrition, help them grow better, develop long-term healthy habits, and improve their academic performance, as well as gain life skills.

The 'Partnership for Healthy Cities' initiative is a global network backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies Organization, encompassing 70 cities, including Cairo. Its objective is to save lives by preventing non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, and obesity. This is achieved by addressing and combating the risk factors associated with these diseases through the selection and implementation of a series of activities. These activities aim to adhere to international nutrition standards for food provision and sales in public institutions, particularly in government primary schools. The initiative offers affordable, healthy alternatives to students in school canteens while enhancing their efficiency and providing the necessary tools for their preparation.

The initiative also evaluated the environment of school canteens and the quality of food sold, Based on this evaluation, the organization provided the equipment and supplies that would enable canteens to sell healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables as healthy alternatives to unhealthy foods high in sugars, fats, and salt, as well as popcorn as an alternative to unhealthy salty snacks. Health educators and canteen staff were also trained to provide scientific information on these healthy alternatives and encourage students to adopt a healthy dietary pattern.

It is noteworthy that Egypt suffers from a dual burden of malnutrition and obesity. The results of the presidential initiative to detect malnutrition among primary school students for the academic year 2022/2021 revealed a prevalence of anemia among children aged 6-12 years of approximately 17%, while about 4.5% in the same age group suffer from stunting, and 12% suffer from overweight and obesity.


About Egyptian Food Bank

The Egyptian Food Bank was established in 2004 as a non-governmental organization aimed at achieving food security in Egypt, and for 20 years, the Food Bank has continued to support the underprivileged families in Egypt who face difficulties and challenges in obtaining sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which directly contributed to alleviating the suffering from hunger at the national level.