President Banda and the UN Resident Coordinator, Kanni Wignaraja, exchanging notes during the Food and Nutrition Forum. Photo by WFP/Mark Maseko
Activities aimed at mitigating malnutrition among children in Zambia are to be scaled up, following a national nutrition convention held in Livingstone in February. The convention was organized by the National Food and Nutrition Commission with input various players including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UN Resident Coordinator Kanni Wignaraja said at the opening of the national nutrition convention that the first Millennium Development Goal calls for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, and that its achievement is crucial for national progress on human development. She noted that failing to achieve this goal jeopardizes the achievement of other MDGs, including goals to achieve universal primary education (MDG2), to reduce child mortality (MDG4) and to improve maternal health (MDG5).
Many countries, including Zambia, are close to meeting the target on underweight prevalence. In Zambia, progress has been made in reducing underweight prevalence from 21% in 1992 to 15% in 2007.
The major concern is the stunting of children. It is estimated that in Africa and Asia 200 million children under five years of age are stunted – that is about 90 per cent of all children in these two regions. Furthermore, children living in rural areas are almost one and a half times as likely to be stunted as those in urban areas; and children in the poorest 20 per cent of households are twice as likely to be stunted as children in the richest 20 per cent of households. These are trends that also apply to Zambia.
Wignaraja said that behind each data point is a child who will grow up with disadvantage and disability. Zambia's national data reveals that stunting impacts about 45 per cent of children under five years of age. She said that it has been an invisible and silent emergency in many of our countries for too long, and that it is heartening to see the matter being actively addressed. “Zambia can show that something can be done about it in the region” she said.
“We know from global evidence and practice that the focus must be on those critical first one thousand days”, said Wigwaraja. "This is where it all begins and, with the right interventions, reversals can happen.” Stunting is a phenomenon of early childhood occurring during those 1,000 days from pregnancy to the age of two years, she said. "Proven solutions are available now", she concluded.
A package of 13 highly cost effective interventions has been identified to prevent and treat under-nutrition in children under two years. They include the promotion of good feeding practices, the increased intake of vitamins and minerals through continued fortification and supplements for both mothers and children, and the exclusive and early initiation of breast feeding. It is a life-cycle approach.
In recent months, more than 100 governments of developing countries, civil society organizations,development agencies, donors and members of the private sector have come together to create the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative - A Framework for Action, which outlines the actionable priorities to improve infant and child nutrition in countries with a high burden of stunting.
The Resident Coordinator highlighted three core aspects of national strategy and institutional change that had made a difference elsewhere. She expressed the wish they would have the same effect in Zambia:
1. Recognizing that nutrition is not merely a health issue, nor is it just about food. To make a change it requires concerted actions across health, education, agriculture, and finance and community development. Such a broad, multi-sectoral approach addressing the determinants of under-nutrition - poverty, food insecurity, illiteracy and gender inequality - are critical to a meaningful and sustainable response. Therefore, what we learn - and how we apply our knowledge and capacities - are essential to success.
2. This concerted response to malnutrition and stunting requires public private partnerships. It is a challenge that needs the full engagement of the private sector, and the engagement of communities, working closely with state bodies, especially at local levels.
All these actors should be involved as service delivery agents and as concerned citizens to ensure the children’s well-being. This also links to partnership with the international community which can bring in the required global expertise, resources and good practices.
3. Countries and communities that have addressed nutrition effectively are those that have put education, gender equality and nutrition at the top of the national development agenda. And these are countries that are now climbing fast up the ladder of human development.
Wignaraja stressed that the United Nations in Zambia was there to support the efforts of the country in attaining the MDGs and to improve its human development indicators each year.
“The strong leadership commitment that exists in Zambia combined with an equally strong national coordination mechanism that must be multi-sectoral in nature would ensure that this issue is addressed effectively and rapidly” said Wignaraja.
In his opening address, His Excellency Rupiah Bwezani Banda, President of the Republic of Zambia, said: “My Government is convinced that investing in high-impact nutrition interventions produces exceptional pay-offs in terms of reduced morbidity, mortality and improved physical and mental growth. Through these interventions, Zambia can meet the millennium Development Goals and the nutrition vision of becoming a prosperous middle-income country by the year 2030”. The president said all sectors of the economy should work together while each sector needed to focus on how it could promote the nutritional well-being of the people.
The national convention involved the participation of key stakeholders drawn from the food and nutrition sector. The two-day forum attracted 130 participants from Zambia and abroad.
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