Malnutrition blamed for fuelling poverty

By Byron Mutingwende


Malnutrition is impeding economic growth and development and contributing to poverty by increasing mortality, increasing susceptibility to disease, impairing cognitive development and educational achievement and reducing work capacity and productivity in adulthood, a senior government official has said.


In his official address at the Food and Nutrition Security Technical Committee Workshop on the Multi-sectoral Nutrition Sensitive Planning held at Troutbeck Inn in Nyanga on 10 April 2018, Mr Albert Chikondo, the Senior Principal Director of Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Office of the President and Cabinet said malnutrition impedes development.


“Malnutrition is a major impediment to economic growth and development. It contributes to poverty by increasing mortality, increasing susceptibility to disease, impairing cognitive development and educational achievement and reducing work capacity and productivity in adulthood,” Chikondo said.


Dr Chimimba David Phiri the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa said stunting was prevalent in the region with middle income countries like South Africa and Namibia still having some challenges in addressing the problem.


He hailed the United Nations for helping the government of Zimbabwe in coming up with the vulnerability assessment reports, food-based dietary guidelines, promoting gender equality and working towards reducing stunting.


Eddie Rowe, the World Food Programme (WFP) Zimbabwe representative said his organization has been spearheading a water-source development programme at 22 schools in Zvishavane that has seen an improvement in the capacity of the schools to produce their own food.


“This is part of our productive asset programme. The schools now use the water to set up nutrition gardens. Some schools are now supplying vegetables to communities located within their 10km radius. This builds their self-reliance and long-term resilience,” Rowe said.


Dexter Chagwena, a nutritionist in the ministry of health said the problem of malnutrition goes beyond an individual, or a family having a child with kwashiorkor or a mother with iron deficiency anaemia.


“It is a community problem, a national issue because it comes back to affect national development, resulting in in reduced productivity and earnings. Children who are stunted have impaired brain and poor cognitive development and they go on to perform poorly in school and grow to become adults who are less productive with meagre earnings. To understand what causes malnutrition the UNICEF conceptual framework has clearly analysed factors contributing to malnutrition.


“These factors are illustrated at individual level where individuals have inadequate dietary intake and experience disease and illness leading to malnutrition. Beneath that there are underlying causes affecting the household including food insecurity, inadequate care provided to children and unhealthy environments,” Chagwena said.


Other causes of malnutrition that include the political environment of a country, issues to do with education, national economic structure and potential resources. Through understanding of these causes of malnutrition and realising that it takes more than the health and nutrition sector to address malnutrition, a multisectoral approach has been developed that include nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions.


Nutrition-specific interventions include programmes such as promoting diversified diets, providing micronutrient supplements to cover the nutrient gap and treatment of malnutrition. Nutrition sensitive interventions are mainly from other sectors that include increased diversified food production, education for all, social protection and availability of safety nets.



In 2012, WHO member states endorsed a broader agenda to improve nutrition by 2025 (the Global Nutrition Target). Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 2.2 is even more aspirational, calling for an end to all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Zimbabwe is also part of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement and joined in 2011.


The Zimbabwe Constitution recognises the right to adequate food and nutrition coupled with access to basic health care and social services. The Government of Zimbabwe recognises this indisputable importance of food and nutrition security as illustrated in its key policy frameworks (the Food and Nutrition Security Policy (FNSP) and ZimASSET – cluster 1).


“These policies express a shared vision and commitments for accelerated action by the Government and its development partners, to improve national and household level food security, improve the quality of diets, ensure food safety, improve nutrition for adolescents, pregnant women and young children and reduce stunting. Nutrition information, especially estimates of child growth failure, provide a baseline for measuring progress as well as a precision for public health platform to target interventions to those populations with the greatest need, in order to reduce health disparities and accelerate progress.”


He said Zimbabwe`s nutrition assessment (as defined in the Food and Nutrition Security Policy Commitment 6) serves as a key input to discussion of progress and areas of improvement. Chikondo applauded the Food and Nutrition Council for coordinating the 2018 National Nutrition Survey.


George Kembo, the Director of the Food and Nutrition Council said the 2018 National Nutrition Survey results brings to fore the value of precision public health planning to provide spatially resolved data to guide efficient targeting of interventions to those populations with the greatest need. The Survey was undertaken to provide an update on the nutrition situation since the last Survey was undertaken in 2010. Its findings will assist the country to evaluate its performance against ZimASSET and the National Nutrition Strategy; which are both ending in 2018.


“The survey will aid monitoring the continuing implementation of the Food and Nutrition Security Policy and ZimASSET’s cluster 1 as well as the country’s progress against regional and global commitments (which include Sustainable Development Goals).


“Thus, the Survey results will enable quantification of inequalities and identification of success and failures of programmes and policies at local level. In recognition of the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of not only the impacts of nutrition status but also its causes, the design of the 2018 National Nutrition Survey, was guided by the food and nutrition conceptual framework as pronounced in the Food and Nutrition Security Policy of 2012.”


The 2018 National Nutrition Survey report focuses on thematic areas which include household demographics; WASH; household consumption and coping strategies; food fortification; child health and nutrition; growth monitoring; immunisation and maternal health and provides recommendations on each thematic area for action at both district and national level.


Nutrition sensitive interventions should focus on diversified crop and livestock production, household food processing as well as preservation to counter seasonal availability of foods. Mandatory food fortification is a strategy adopted by Government to improve the quality of diets.

Nutrition-sensitive development seeks to integrate and promote nutrition as a goal of multiple sector policies in order to accelerate national development. Agriculture, social protection, health, education, gender and community development programmes all have specific and attainable actions they can make, to improve their own outcomes by incorporating nutrition.