Countries facing challenges of nutrition security confront a trade-off when dealing with pandemics such as COVID-19. Implementing lockdown measures, widely used worldwide, can help “flatten the curve” (of disease), but such measures may worsen nutrition security. We aim to identify and justify nutrition-sensitive lockdown measures to reduce trade-offs with nutrition security. We propose a conceptual framework which distinguishes eight lockdown measures and six pathways to nutrition security. To demonstrate the relevance of the pathways, we reviewed emerging literature on COVID-19 and nutrition security. We analysed the content of 1,188 newspaper articles on lockdown effects in five African countries — Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Some lockdown measures, such as closing workplaces and restricting movement, potentially worsen nutrition far more than others — banning events and public gatherings have far lesser impacts on nutrition. This can be seen from the framework, literature, and is supported by the analysis of newspaper reports in the five countries. It is better when possible to test and trace disease than to lockdown. But when lockdowns are needed, then first recourse should be to measures that have few nutritional consequences, such as banning public events. When more drastic measures are necessary, look to mitigate nutritional harm by, for example, exempting farm labour from restrictions on movement, by replacing school meals with take-home rations, and, above all, providing income support to households most affected and most vulnerable.
Published in Development Policy Review