Zambia in Need of $48 Million to Fight Malnutrition

The National Food and Nutrition Commission (“the designated convening body to coordinate action on nutrition in Zambia”), has made a call for US$48 million to help address the serious problem of malnutrition in this country. The Daily Mail notes that the Zambia Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN) has also made a plea to members of Parliament, asking them to support measures that would devote increased funding to nutritional development. CSO-SUN Country County Coordinator, Wiliam Chilufya, recently told the press: “We are meeting with MPs (in Lusaka) today, the reason being that we have unacceptably high levels of malnutrition in the country, where about 46 per cent of children under five are malnourished. With the engagement of MPs on nutrition, we hope that we can include food and nutrition in Government priority programmes.” Mr. Chilufya claimed that the MPs could be helpful, not only in advocating increased funding, but also in assessing the efficiency of current nutritional programmes which are currently in motion in different districts in Zambia.

The Effects of Malnutrition
Worldbank.org notes that the effects of malnutrition in Zambia are devastating:  “Over one-third of child deaths are due to under-nutrition, mostly from increased severity of disease. Children who are undernourished between conception and age two are at high risk for impaired cognitive development.” In Zambia, in particular, the statistics are as follows: “Some 15 per cent (of children under five) are underweight and five per cent are wasted.” Malnutrition rates have remained constant over the past decade, so that Zambia is unlikely to meet the MDG target (reducing the percentage of underweight children by half in 2015).
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies and the Problem of Hidden Hunger
Zambia displays a higher rate of stunted growth owing to malnutrition, than nations like Kenya or Mauritania, which have similar or lesser per capita income rates. This suggests that sound nutrition isn’t just about the need for greater funds, if not also about utilising the right caring practices. Some of the Vitamin deficiencies which plague Zambians include Vitamin A and Iron deficiencies. A large percentage of pre-school-aged children and pregnant women are deficient in Vitamin A (54% and 13%, approximately), while over half of preschool-aged children and pregnant women have anaemia, which is caused by a deficiency in iron. The percentage of Vitamin is, while still unacceptably high, is lesser than it would have been if not for the high rates of supplementation in Zambia (96% of children aged between six and 59 months are provided with supplementation). Iron deficiency can similarly be countered through deworming, supplementation for pregnant women, babies and young children, and fortification of commonly consumed foods.
Iodine deficiency is another problem requiring a response; around 25% of the population in Zambia does not consume iodised salt. Thus, while new universal salt iodisation legislation has been enforced since 1996, further protection is required against iodine deficiencies. Vitamin D deficiency is also an issue in Zambia. Skin Africa notes the importance of Vitamin D: “We all need Vitamin D. Your body produces this essential vitamin whenever your bare skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, however, many sunscreens prohibit the production of this vital vitamin, causing deficiencies.” Public Health England notes that the risk of Vitamin D deficiency is increased for “dark skinned individuals or those who for cultural or religious reasons cover their whole bodies when outdoors are at risk of deficiency, as are those whose diets (vegetarian/vegan) do not contain an adequate vitamin D supply.” Kwikmed.org elaborates on the link between darker skin and inadequate Vitamin D levels: “if you have a darker tone to your skin, this acts as a natural sun block and slows synthesis of Vitamin D,” noting that ageing populations are also at an increased risk, since as we age, Vitamin D production is less efficient.

Solutions to Malnutrition
The Lusaka times notes the important link between a mother’s nutritional intake and the health of her child: “A child’s nutritional future begins with the mother’s nutritional status during her adolescence and during pregnancy.”
 UNICEF notes that “Under-nutrition can be greatly reduced through the delivery of simple interventions at key stages of the life cycle - for the mother: before she becomes pregnant, during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding; for the child, in infancy and early childhood. Maternal under-nutrition leads to intra-uterine growth retardation and low birth weight.” Therefore, it is vital to support key interventions in various ways: by supporting the development of new policies, by working to improve the technical capacity of nutritionists and health workers, by supporting scaling-up and delivery of high-impact interventions (e.g. supplementation and de-worming programmes for children), etc.
Improvements in Affected Areas
According to UNICEF, progress has been made in various areas, including underweight, iodine deficiency, exclusive breastfeeding rate, Vitamin A supplementation and de-worming. The NFNC, however, notes that there is no getting around the issue: increased funding is required if target figures are to be achieved.

Articles contributed by Jen Glover. Posted on 28 August, 2014