Uganda back to basics in malnutrition war

Sunday November 3 2019

Top view of a child hands holding three white beans.

Top view of a child hands holding three white beans. With many Ugandans going to bed with a full stomach, experts said it is difficult to detect malnutrition in such people. FOTOSEARCH 

HALIMA ABDALLAH
By HALIMA ABDALLAH
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The Ugandan government is going back to the basics to high resurgence of malnutrition. To this end, it is teaching communities how to grow, prepare and serve their families with balanced diets.

The project also aimed at fighting obesity among the country’s expanding middle class is bankrolled by the World Bank.

The country is involving three ministries—Ministry of Agriculture, Local Government and Health—to implement strategies geared at improving food and nutrition among the population. Ministry of Agriculture is taking the lead.

The strategy is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2025 target for reducing malnutrition.

The $27.64 million project is targeting children between six months and five years and farmers.

Even though most households have access to food that are consumed throughout the year, the foods are either deficient in micronutrients or the families simply do not do not know how to balance the diet. This, according to government experts, is leading to “hidden hunger” which is causing ill-health, stunting and deaths.

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“The Ministry of Agriculture has taken the lead and we are practically teaching communities how to cook different types of foods so that nutrients are preserved and what makes it a balanced diet,” SAID Solomon Kalema, communications specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The hidden hunger problem is exacerbated by lifestyles, incomes and lack of knowledge on what constitutes a proper diet.

For example, persons with high income tend to drink sodas that are high in sugars as opposed to water or fresh fruit juices that are readily available.

Others eat highly refined foods as opposed to simple fibre rich foods resulting in overweight and malnutrition.

With many Ugandans going to bed with a full stomach, experts said it is difficult to detect malnutrition in such people. However over time, the problem begins to manifest.

For example, if one has a Vitamin A deficiency the effect is realised later when they start suffering from sight problems.

Experts say many in both rural and urban communities are happy when their stomachs are full care less about the nutritional content of a full tummy.

According to Unicef, over 2.4 million children in Uganda are stunted, an irreversible condition while half of children under five and one quarter of child-bearing-age women are anaemic.

“These afflictions are sobering and should terrify us, given the adverse effects of malnutrition on the growth and development of children,” said Unicef Representative to Uganda Dr Doreen Mulenga.

“Unless these problems are addressed in a meaningful way, the children of Uganda and the country as a whole, will struggle to reach their full potential,” she added.

In older people, malnutrition is leading to shortened life expectancy and low economic productivity. It is estimated that Uganda loses $310 million worth of productivity per year due to high levels of stunting, iodine deficiency disorders and iron deficiency.

In implementing necessary actions, the ministry of health is providing supplements to expectant women like folic acid and vitamins A to mothers and babies. Besides that, it is managing cases of acute malnutrition in children and HIV/Aids persons. It is also doing Nutrition Surveillance.

Ministry of Agriculture is mandated to research and to develop nutritious food crops that will provide essential micronutrients like Vitamins A, iron, zinc and iodine in the diets.

An earlier research proved that orange fleshed sweet potatoes already in Ugandan market can drastically bring down impacts of vitamin A deficiency. Sweet potato is the third most important food crop in production in seven Eastern and Central African countries.