The World Bank says Malawi is losing an estimated $597 million (about K440 billion) annually due to poor childhood nutrition.
This economic loss, according to the Bretton Woods institution, is an equivalent of three percent of the country’s national output as measured by nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and is mainly attributed to increased healthcare expenses as well as reduced labour productivity.
The forgone income is highlighted in the World Bank’s 10th edition of the Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM) titled Strengthening Human Capital Through Nutrition unveiled in Lilongwe yesterday.
According to the report, despite Malawi making “impressive” strides towards reducing childhood stunting over the past five years, 37 percent of children under the age of five continue to suffer from stunting with disparities by geographical areas and wealth brackets.
At 37 percent stunting level, Malawi is moderately rated poorly as the World Health Organisation (WHO) puts a minimum threshhold of 30 percent of stunting among children for a country, according to nutrition experts who spoke during the launch. The rate also remains higher than the regional average of 34 percent, it was learnt.
On stunting, the report highlights that an estimated 24 percent of children under six months of age are stunted, stressing that from that point, the rate continues to increase until the children reach approximately 30 months, after which there is a decline.
“Furthermore, childhood stunting in Malawi is higher among the poor, with an estimated 46 percent of children from poor households being stunted as compared to 24 percent of children from well-off households,” reads the World Bank report in part.
The immediate factors associated with stunting in under-five children in Malawi include low weight at birth, diarrhoeal disease and inadequate diet for the child.
Addressing delegates to the launch, World Bank country manager Greg Toulmin observed that after hovering around 50 percent for decades, stunting in children under fivereduced from 47 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2015.
He said to address the bottlenecks in child under-nutrition, efforts should focus on maternal nutrition, improving the diversity of diets and improving livelihoods and resilience among the poorest population groups.
Reacting to the findings, Ministry of Health chief director Bestone Chisamile described the economic loss estimate by the bank as “high and unacceptable”, especially for a developing country such as Malawi.
He said government is aware that malnutrition is negatively affecting Malawi’s social and economic development; hence, the need for scaling up interventions to reduce the vice.
Global evidence also shows that the first 1 000 days of life are the most critical window for addressing malnutrition and that for every dollar (an equivalent of K740) invested in maternal and child nutrition interventions, there is a return of $16 (about K11 840).