Nutrition plays a key role in growth and development of any economy in the world.. Women and children below the ages of five years are the most vulnerable population in regards to malnutrition. Research has shown that the double burden of malnutrition; overweight and underweight is cyclic. This is a great reason why nutrition investment should be scaled up in Kenya and globally at large.
The Global Nutrition Report (GNR, 2015) indicates Kenya’s nutrition status improved remarkably. Kenya became the only country in the world to lead in nutrition targets aimed at ensuring mother and child nutrition needs are met. Even so, the work is far from completion. Over half of Kenya’s population are living below the poverty line and can only afford one meal a day (if they are lucky) or skip a day or two before they can access another meal.
About 45% of all child deaths globally are linked to malnutrition. Children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 14 times more likely to die before the age of 5 than children in developed regions. Over 40,000 children in Kenya die every year because they are underweight, are vitamin A-deficient, or are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Further, the high Child Mortality Rate 52/1000 is attributed to nutrition related illnesses.
Leading causes of death in children under-5 years are preterm birth complications. One in every 2 Kenyan women suffers from iron deficiency which can lead to giving birth before the required time. Other leading causes include pneumonia, birth asphyxia, diarrhoea and malaria.
The Scaling Up Nutrition Kenya reveals that overall productivity of the nation is at risk due to poor nutrition.
For the first time in 14 years, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development-TICAD VI will be hosted in Kenya, with several Heads of States from Africa attending from August 27 to 28, 2016. Led by the Japan Prime Minister H.E Shinzō Abe, TICAD VI aims to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and their partners; and to mobilize support for African-owned development initiatives. Since the first TICAD in 1993, the summit has been held in Japan every five years.
In this regard, there is a call to action for the decision makers to institute poliices on breastfeeding; such as work place support to create suitable environment for the mothers to breastfeed and express milk for the child. The policy on breastfeeding is to compel all employers to create suitable environment for the exclusive breastfeeding; flexi hours, 6 months leave.
Evidence has shown, investment in 6months exclusive breastfeeding, and breastfeeding up to the first 1000days of life (2 years) on safe, adequate, appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting in the sixth month, reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and obesity later in life. Bearing inmind the communicable diseases hurts the economy by depleting resources including human and resources, investment in breastfeeding and sensitization on the same, would save the economy a lot of wealth.
In this regard, KANCO with partners have organized TICAD VI High Level Nutrition Side Event. The aim is to sensitize African Leaders on significance of paying attention to nutrition as an investment. Nutrition is a key agenda in Africa/Global economic development as it affects the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Between 2010 and 2030, if nothing is done, Kenya will lose 104 billion shillings, approximately 1 billion USD, due to Iodine Deficiency Disorders. Further, 26% of all Kenyan children less than 2 years are stunted. In West Pokot alone, 47% of the children are stunted. It is estimated that, Kenya lost about Kshs 95 billion due to stunting in 2010 alone.
Stunting means growing and developing significantly and irreversibly below average due to lack of proper nutrition among children that affects brain development. When children are stunted, they will never reach their full mental and physical potential even where they survive. As a result, this affects their school performance and ability to become innovative and economically productive later in life.
As stated before Kenya is making significant strides in reaching nutrition goals; but many Kenyans still do not receive sufficient nutrients. In an effort to continue in the positive path that Kenya is on, the country should challenge itself in the adoption of the bold goal to end micronutrient deficiencies in the next 2 years.
Prioritizing nutrition is not a liability it is an investment. Our children are our future.
Frederick Muturi, Nutrition officer –KANCO