Although the government and donor community are investing a lot of money in education, the sector faces a big challenge of malnutrition and stunting, according to Dr Hanifa Bachou, the head USAID FANTA project.
Bachou said almost half of Uganda’s children are malnourished. Speaking at the launch of the Global Nutrition Report (GNR) at Speke Resort Munyonyo on October 31, Bachou said without improvement in nutrition, Uganda’s Vision 2040, of a prosperous and modern society, cannot be achieved.
Malnutrition slows growth and brain development, lowering intelligence levels and making it harder for children to succeed.
“Malnourished children spend more days out of school due to illnesses and perform badly at school. Such children become adults who earn less money compared to those who are well nourished and better educated as children,” she said.
The event, themed “empowering our women, securing our food and improving our nutrition in Africa by 2020” also served to commemorate the Africa Day of Food and Nutrition Security (ADFNS).
Bachou said hunger and malnutrition cause poverty, as hungry people cannot be productive. Malnutrition in Uganda can take many forms including stunting, underweight for age, acute malnutrition, anaemia, Vitamin A deficiency, iodine deficiency and low birth weight.
Catherine Bertine of Chicago Council on Global Nutrition Affairs said malnutrition affects poor families more, but even among the rich, 20.5 per cent of the children below five years are stunted.
She said 54 per cent of the adult working population in Uganda today suffered from stunting as children, meaning that more than eight million people are not able to achieve their potential as a consequence of childhood feeding.
“Stunting alone will cost Uganda more than Shs 19 trillion in lost productivity by 2025. The poor incur most of these costs, as they are more likely to be malnourished. Increasing investment and commitment to nutrition, will be crucial for Uganda in the decades to come,” she said.
According to the report, childhood stunting and wasting remain a serious problem worldwide, whereby more than 160 million children under five years are too short for their age (stunted), while more than 50 million don’t weigh enough for their height.
Why malnourished Ugandans?
Dr Shelly Sandburg of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said many Ugandans are malnourished because they don’t eat enough food or variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, or meat at least once a day to provide the nutrition their bodies need.
“Illnesses such as diarrhea that do not allow food to be absorbed and used by the body can also cause malnutrition,” she said.
Sandburg said on average, Ugandan women give birth to six children but mothers don’t give their bodies enough time to recover and build up enough nutrients for another pregnancy.
“More than half of the women do not visit health facilities while pregnant to receive support on health and nutrition for mother and baby,” she said.
The prime minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, said the cost of hunger study in 2013 showed that hunger alone in Uganda was resulting into a loss of eight per cent in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“We must improve the nutrition status of our adolescent girls and give birth to the first child after 20 years. Make sure children are born at least after two years apart to improve the health of the mothers and the babies,” Rugunda said.
Pregnant women should visit health centers immediately after confirming they are pregnant and eat a healthy diet, with at least one extra meal a day.