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Agricultural changes notwithstanding, malnutrition remains a challenge

 

Similarly, the progress against this crisis has been slower in Tanzania and Africa generally than elsewhere in the world. Soaring food prices and economic crisis in last two years has made it even harder for families to buy enough of the right types of food for their children as they grow up. 

In its new report 'A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition', Save the Children shows that rising food prices and malnutrition are putting additional pressure on countries with already high burdens of child mortality. 

Unless tackled now, the report continues, over the next 15 years, a further half a billion children’s lives around the world will be left blighted by malnutrition.    Save the Children’s survey and a new report are part of their global Every One campaign to save millions of children’s lives by stopping them dying from basic illnesses we know how to prevent and treat. 

Available statistics show that about 130 children in the country die every day from causes related to undernourishment and four out of five of them under the age of five suffering from chronic malnutrition.   Malnutrition is associated with an inadequate diet, poor health and sanitation services and insufficient care for young children. Thus, a combination of income growth and nutrition interventions are therefore suggested to adequately tackle this issue. 

Malnourished children have lowered resistance to infection. They are more likely to die from common childhood ailments like diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections.    For survivors, frequent illness saps their nutritional status, locking them into a vicious cycle of recurring sickness, faltering growth and diminished learning ability.   They often occur together and are caused by multiple underlying factors including inadequate access to food and health services, an unhealthy environment, and inadequate caring practices.

Lack of awareness has been cited as one of the grave factors fuelling up malnutrition as well as children mortality putting the nation at loss of about 6tr/- in a 5-year period. Progress is made when provision of basic services is combined with support for initiatives that inform and empower communities and families to ensure adequate nutrient intake and prevent infectious disease. 

The Partnership for Nutrition in Tanzania (PANITA) ambassador, Prof Joyce Kinabo, told participants at the launch of ‘Save the Children Nutrition Wedge’, that the government has been making huge expenditure for treatment of diseases related to malnutrition particularly children under five.  

“Apart from some progress made so far in the war against malnourishment related diseases, four out of ten under-fives are stunted,” said Prof Kinabo, also an associate Professor of the Sokoine University of Agriculture.  Malnutrition accounts for a third of child deaths in the world, amounting to 2.6 million each year, but it has not received the same high-profile campaigning and investment as other causes of child mortality such as HIV/Aids and malaria, according to Tackling Child Malnutrition. 

This has meant that while the child mortality rate from malaria has been cut by a third since 2000, child malnutrition rates in Africa have decreased by less than 0.3 per cent.  It adds that nearly two in five African children are malnourished, totalling 60 million. This figure is expected to rise by 8.5 million this decade if current trends continue— 450,000 of them in Tanzania. 

The costs, both in human and economic terms are huge. A child who is chronically malnourished can have an IQ of up to 15 points less  than a child properly nourished, whilst Save the Children estimates the cost to the global economy of child malnutrition in 2010 alone was nearly 121 billion US dollars.    Political will, according to Dr Kinabo, as well as sensitization by all stakeholders are vital instruments in increasing investment resources as well as raising the level of awareness to the family members on the significance of enhancing food nutrition.    

Inaugurating the report on the Save the Children Nutrition Wedge, the Country Director for the Save Children in Tanzania, Ms Rachel Pounds, said Tanzania is not starting from a scratch but has achieved some positive results like development and finalization of the National Nutrition Strategy for 2010/15 containing the government framework and its partners to work jointly on nutrition issues.  

“Simply by introducing global and national targets on stunting, increasing funding for direct nutrition interventions and investing in effective social protection policies that reach vulnerable families, the government can have an enormous impact on malnutrition rates and children’s lives,” she said.

Last year, the government launched its National Nutrition Strategy 2011/12 to 2015/16 making commitment to establish a designated line in the national budget for nutrition for the current financial year. To realize democratic, healthy, environmentally responsible and economically resilient vision, she said, efforts of all partners in taking responsibility for the issues of concern like food and nutrition security are vital.   

But, at current rates of malnutrition, Tanzania will not meet the Millennium Development Goal 1 of reducing extreme poverty and hunger which has a component of halving the 1990 rates of child underweight status by 2015.   “Inequities in nutritional status continue to persist, with most malnourished children and women living in rural areas. Thus, more efforts need to be done,” remarked Ms Pounds. 

Tanzania is among nine countries that are set to benefit from Nutrition Wedge, according to Ms Pounds. The others are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda.  Fortifying basic foods with essential minerals like vitamins, encouraging exclusive breastfeeding for children up to six months of age, and better investment in cash transfers with payments targeted at the poorest families, can turn the tide on malnutrition and reduce vulnerability to food price spikes. 

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Author: SEBASTIAN MRINDOKO

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