By Byron Mutingwende
Nutritionists are calling for the National Budget to allocate the threshold prescribed in the Abuja Declaration to the health sector if the country is to realise positive economic development outcomes.
“The National Budget should allocate at least 15% to healthcare in line with the Abuja Declaration target. Empirical evidence has shown that a 1% increase in public spending on healthcare reduces child and maternal rates while improving life expectancy,” said Kudakwashe Zombe, the Coordinator of Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling up Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA) at a budget analysis meeting held in Harare recently.
He urged the ministry of health to adopt nutrition as a standalone programme since the fight against malnutrition in all its forms is a priority under this sector.
Zombe said there is a link between nutrition, health, education, agriculture and the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Research has shown that improving the vitamin A status of vulnerable populations can reduce under-five mortality rates by at least 23 percent, preventing between 1.3 and 2.5 million deaths each year and saving hundreds of thousands of children from irreversible blindness.
The iron deficiency is also a serious cause of ill health. The WHO Global Burden of Disease report ranks iron deficiency anaemia as second among leading causes of disability. Its effects, shouldered disproportionately by women and children, represent serious obstacles to the health and socioeconomic development of nations. The most common cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage, iodine deficiency takes a profound toll on health and productivity in affected countries
On the relationship between nutrition and education, Zombe said growth retardation is associated with a substantial reduction in mental capacity and adverse school performance, even in mild to moderate cases, and ultimately leads to reduced work productivity.
“An estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide are iodine deficient. Iodine deficiency is associated with an average 13.5 point reduction in IQ for a population. Deficiency in school children leads to reduced cognitive function while deficiency during foetal life can have profound and irreversible effects on the child’s mental capacity.
“Undernutrition limits national intellectual potential. It has major effects during the period from conception through the second birthday. Irreversible damage to the physical, mental, and social development of the child occurs during this period. Early health, nutrition, and psychosocial stimulation can prevent malnutrition and its impact on learning,” Zombe said.
Agriculture and nutrition share a common entry point: “food.” Food is a key outcome of agricultural activities, and, in turn, is a key input into good nutrition. Without agriculture there is little food or nutrition, but availability of food from agriculture doesn’t ensure good nutrition. Changes in nutrition or health status are expected to affect agricultural production; conversely changes in the agricultural sector can have significant effects on individual health and nutritional status.
On the other hand, nutrition must be understood as both an input to, and an outcome of, the SDGs. Malnutrition derives not just from a lack of food, but from a host of interacting processes linking health, care, education, sanitation and hygiene, access to resources, women’s empowerment.
Speaking about the malnutrition situation in Zimbabwe, Kudzai Chavunduka, a ZCSOSUNA programme officer alluded to a variety of causes of malnutrition.
She said the insufficient access to food caused by the low agricultural production, lack of money, poor storage and preservation of food were some of the causes. Associated with the problem were the inadequate maternal and childcare practices.
“There is need to present the malnutrition situation in Zimbabwe. About 27% children in Zimbabwe suffer stunted growth, with 9% severely stunted owing to poor nutrition according to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS 2015). As of 2017 stunting was still at 27% (to 1 in every 4 children). Highest rates were recorded in Manicaland while 3% of Zimbabwean children are wasted and 1% are severely wasted,” Chavunduka said.
Nationally, 13% of children aged 6 to 23 months consumed a minimum dietary diversity (MDD). This is lower than 18% reported in 2015. Compared to 2016, there has been a general decrease in the proportion of children consuming iron-rich foods across all provinces. 1 in 5 children aged 6-59 months are deficient in Vitamin A which leads to poor eyesight and night blindness. 7 in 10 are Iron deficient and the rate of anaemia is 32% within the same age group. In pregnant women 1 in every 4 women are anaemic and 1 in every 2 is iron deficient.
At a national level, 40% of women of childbearing age achieved a minimum dietary diversity (MDD) and therefore more likely to have adequate micronutrient intakes. Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North had the least proportion of women whose diets met MDD.
Cuthbert Mukora, the Director of Rural Enterprise of Zimbabwe said malnutrition has a negative impact on human and economic growth capacities of the country.