Social protection as a nutrition-sensitive instrument to address malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa: Examining the utility of the UNICEF conceptual model of care for maternal and child nutrition

Child nutrition, health and development are closely tied to maternal nutrition, health and well-being. The underlying drivers of poor maternal and child nutritional outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa are structural in nature. These risks include social, economic, and environmental factors that together compound vulnerability to poor outcomes. Poverty, as a driver of poor maternal and child health outcomes, is an important determinant that is both a cause and a consequence of malnutrition. The United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s conceptual model for determinants of maternal and child nutrition outcomes released in 2020, is the agency’s latest iteration of child nutrition frameworks. The model identifies the underlying causes of malnutrition as extending beyond food and diets, to include household level dynamics, maternal factors, and the external environment. The manuscript discusses UNICEF’s conceptual model and its applicability in sub-Saharan Africa. It also considers the evidence on interventions aimed at addressing maternal and child nutrition in the region and the location of social protection among these policy tools, with a special focus on the extent to which these resonate with the conceptual model. It concludes by considering the conditions required for social protection instruments to work in the region and similar settings in the Global South. In this way, the manuscript provides a critical reflection about the role of social protection as a nutritionsensitive instrument in sub-Saharan Africa, in the context of maternal and child nutrition outcomes