Kenya only country in the world set to meet five health targets

Monday September 28 2015

A mother nurses her baby. PHOTO | FILE

A mother nurses her baby. The five targets are stunting, wasting, overweight among children under five, exclusive breastfeeding of infants up to six months, and anaemia in women of reproductive age. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI

Kenya is the only country in the world that is on course to meet all five World Health Assembly (WHA) maternal and child nutrition health targets, according to the 2015 Global Nutrition report.

Kenya’s progress has been attributed to government commitment and investment to end malnutrition; women’s empowerment; improved food supply; greater access to improved healthcare, water and sanitation facilities; and improved performance of specific nutrition programmes across the country.

This new status reflects the results of the Kenyan Demographic and Health Survey from 2014 by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2015, which shows that the country’s malnutrition rates have fallen tremendously in the past five years.

Uganda is likely to meet three of the five targets, while Rwanda and Tanzania will achieve only two. Burundi is likely to miss all five targets.

The five targets are stunting, wasting, overweight among children under five, exclusive breastfeeding of infants up to six months, and anaemia in women of reproductive age.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal 1 requires countries to have reduced by one third all of the five targets.

According to the report childhood stunting and wasting remain serious problems in East Africa. More than 160 million children under five worldwide are too short for their age (stunted), while more than 50 million don’t weigh enough for their height (wasted).

Stunting is highest in Burundi where 57.5 per cent of children in the country are too short for their age followed by Rwanda at 37 per cent, Tanzania 34.7 per cent, Uganda 34.2 per cent and Kenya 26 per cent.

On exclusive breastfeeding of children up to the age of six months, Rwanda ranks highest with 87.3 per cent of newborn babies being breastfed exclusively for six months while Tanzania has the least at 41.1 per cent. Burundi, Uganda and Kenya follow at 69.3 per cent, 63.3 per cent and 61.4 per cent respectively.

“Although countries are increasingly meeting goals for combating stunting and wasting, the prevalence of adult obesity rose in every single country between 2010 and 2014, and one in 12 adults worldwide now has type 2 diabetes,” says the report.

Head of nutrition in Kenya’s Ministry of Health Gladys Mugambi said that although Kenya is on the right track as a country, there is still a need for collective action among all stakeholders to stop malnutrition by 2030.

“Micronutrient deficiencies and stunting result in impaired cognitive development in children. We need to bring an end to malnutrition by supporting adequate nutrition,” said Ms Mugambi, adding, “Every child in Kenya has a right to basic nutrition according to Article 53 (1c) of the Constitution, which if properly implemented could reduce illnesses and premature deaths associated with malnutrition and stunted growth. Evidence shows that improved nutrition enhances GDP growth.”

According to the report, nutrition surveillance — the ongoing collection of information on nutrition outcomes and actions — is vital for governments and agencies so that they can promptly respond to changes in the nutritional status of their population.

Mobile phone technology is one of the innovations being used to make nutrition surveillance more efficient and cost-effective.
Agencies are increasingly integrating mobile phones into their nutrition surveillance.

The report notes that Tanzania’s efforts were particularly thorough, as they included a full review of public expenditures related to nutrition.

Rates of child stunting in Tanzania, though still high, have declined significantly in the past few years. Three national surveys in 2004, 2009, and 2010 showed a static rate of stunting at 44-43 per cent, whereas two other national surveys carried out in 2011 and 2014 show rates of 35 per cent.

“The average annual rate of reduction in stunting from 2010 to 2014 is approximately five per cent — faster than the nearly four per cent annual rate required to meet the World Health Assembly target,” says the report.

The report said that investing in improved nutrition can have huge economic returns. Investing $1 can yield up to $16 in economic benefits.

The timing of the report is particularly important as United Nations member states convene to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals later this month. Malnutrition is tied to many of the proposed goals and when 45 per cent of all deaths of children under five are related to malnutrition, is critical that leaders keep nutrition policy at the forefront of their decision-making.

The report’s website contains information on 193 countries and their progress on improving nutrition.

Among the report’s key findings is that one in three people is malnourished, and the problem exists in every country on the planet; however, the strategies available to resolve it are not being implemented due to lack of money, skills, or political pressure.

“When one in three of us is held back... it not only jeopardises the lives of those who are malnourished, but also affects the larger framework for economic growth and sustainable development. Simply put: People cannot get anywhere near their full potential without first overcoming malnutrition,” said Lawrence Haddad, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.