Nutrition is often played down as an issue of little significance. Its effects are rarely discussed by communities. Few people care about what happens if they are found on the flip side of nutrition.
With little attention being invested in the issue by policy makers, it does not come as a surprise that families, too, care less about what constitutes a nutritious meal.
Many are obsessed with filling their tummy at the expense of the real nutritional needs a body requires for it to function well.
Experts say malnutrition has direct link to increased mortality and morbidity levels. Malnutrition is also blamed for school repetitions, school dropouts and reduced physical capacities in children aged five years and below.
These factors put together, bring about a silent yet very stinging effect on the country’s economic front.
According to a recent study on the Cost of Hunger in Africa (Coha), child malnutrition is not only a social but also an economic issue as countries are experiencing significant economic loss as a result of current and past child under-nutrition.
The Coha study is locally led by National Implementation Team (NIT) which comprises experts from different government ministries and departments, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and World Food Programme (WFP) Malawi, among other partners. In Malawi, the annual cost associated with child under-nutrition is estimated at K147 billion. It is reported that 235 of all child mortality cases in Malawi are associated with malnutrition.
On top of that, says the study, 66 percent of the adult population engaged in manual activities was stunted when they were children. This group is estimated to translate to an annual loss of K16.5 billion, according to the study findings.
One organisation which is working in the area of nutrition in Malawi is the Civil Society Organisation Nutrition Alliance (Csona)-Malawi and it has been conducting awareness programmes on the dangers and spiral effects of malnutrition.
Csona advocacy and campaign officer Joseph Gausi says the problem of malnutrition has been compounded by poverty and minimal awareness on its effects. He says people are ignorant of the social and economic ripple effects of malnutrition.
“Research has shown that the most of the damage leading to stunting is done within the first 1 000 days of [life, from] conception to the child’s second birthday. So, most people do not know that this is the most critical period and they do not have the good dietary intake that will give them a healthy body and good nourishment to the child and that in turn affects the development of the child,” he says.
Gausi says Malawi continues to lose a lot of money as it implements remedies to correct the effects of poor nutrition.
“At the moment, we could say that nutrition is a big problem with the latest statistics showing that 37 percent of children are malnourished that is out of every ten, three to four children are stunted. And data has shown us that stunting has long-lasting impact on the future of children as it affects their cognitive development of the brain, hence affecting their performance in school.
“It also affects the productivity of the people and that affects the economy of the country because if we do not have healthy children, they will graduate into individuals who do not have the capacity to deliver,” he said.
Gausi argues that there is need to invest in nutrition, by bringing interventions that will reduce the gap in stunting.
“If we put more effort in preventing stunting from occurring rather than investing in corrective measures, then, we will save a lot,” he said.
Malawi has committed to reducing stunting by 40 percent by 2025 in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) targets, a feat that Gausi feels is attainable if more resources were channelled towards the cause.
Together with its strategic implementing partners like World Vision and Save the Children, Csona is implementing various initiatives in the country to create more awareness on malnutrition and to achieve good nutrition.
As one way of drumming up support for the awareness campaign, Csona has engaged the media in making them nutrition champions. “We do understand that the media industry in this country has played a role in shaping public opinion,” says Gausi.
While the stakeholders plan to reduce stunting by 40 percent by the year 2025, the country continues to bear the cost of malnutrition. n