National Nutrition Survey
By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa
Harare; 09 July 2010 – The inclusive government of Zimbabwe, the United Nations and the Food and Nutrition Council (FNC) have launched new data on the nutritional status of Zimbabwe’s children, revealing that more than one third of Zimbabwe’s children under the age of five are chronically malnourished and consequently stunted.
Speaking when he officially launched National Nutrition Survey results, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai highlighted that Zimbabwe’s current food production remains low to meet national requirements. Years of persistent droughts and the downturn of the Zimbabwean economy over the past decade have adversely affected food availability in many homes in Zimbabwe. Mr. Tsvangirai added his voice to the call for accelerated action to reverse chronic malnutrition and maintain the low levels of acute malnutrition highlighted by the report.
“As Government we have agreed to make nutrition a priority at national and sub national level because it is central for human, social and economic development”, he said,” persistent and deteriorating chronic malnutrition means Zimbabwe is unlikely to meet the United Nations Millenium Development Goal No. 1 – to halve poverty and hunger.”
The Zimbabwe National Nutrition Survey, which was conducted in January 2010 revealed a worsening problem of chronic malnutrition, posing long-term survival and development challenges for Zimbabwe. The survey also shows plummeting exclusive breastfeeding rates. However the low and stable rates of severe acute malnutrition that were found are a credit to both the food security programmes supported by the international community as well as the coping mechanisms of the Zimbabwean people.
In his response to the survey results, UNICEF Representative, Dr. Peter Salama said the survey had further demonstrated that the age of greatest vulnerability to malnutrition and infection is from pre-natal period to 24 months and identifies this period as “the critical window of opportunity’.
“The data emerging from the survey provides irrefutable evidence of the magnitude of the problem of malnutrition in Zimbabwe. These levels of malnutrition are unacceptably high. They represent not only a challenge to reaching our development goals but will also constrain economic growth” said UNICEF Country Representative to Zimbabwe, Dr Peter Salama.
While the overall prevalence of severe acute malnutrition remains relatively low across the country for children under five years, at 2.1%, the rates double among younger children between 6-18 months old, suggesting inherent problems in infant feeding practices, including access to right foods. These rates of severe acute malnutrition translate to over 15,000 severely malnourished children that are at a very high risk of dying in Zimbabwe.
Furthermore only about 8% of children below the age of two years old receive the minimum acceptable complementary foods in terms of quality and diversity. In addition, over a third of the children reside in households not accessing safe water and sanitation facilities. These factors appear to be directly linked to undernutrition. Access to health and nutrition services is also reported to be poor as indicated by only a quarter of the women currently receiving micronutrient supplements during pregnancy and soon after delivery considered to be critical for both the health of the baby and the mother.
The Zimbabwe National Nutrition Survey, which had a sample size of nearly 40 000, was designed to provide government and its development partners with nutrition information to drive national and sub-national level prioritisation and decision making. Supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) with collaboration from intersectoral partners including the Swedish International Development Agency, Central Statistics Office, Ministries of Health and Child Welfare, Labour and Social Services, Agriculture, World Health Organisation, World Food Programme, International Organisation on Migration (IOM), Helen Keller International (HKI) Food and Agriculture Organisation and civil society, the survey will help gauge monitor Zimbabwe’s progress on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs).
"The survey provides a good baseline for prioritisation and decision making at national and sub national levels. It is high time that FNC, the coordinating body for food and nutrition analysis and response in Zimbabwe, is supported to reinvigorate its multi-stakeholder policy and action,” said Mr. George Kembo, acting Director of FNC. “We must continue placing nutrition at the center of our development agenda and be guided by evidence.”
At the launch the Inclusive Government, the United Nations and partners made a call to action, highlighting key interventions necessary to combat malnutrition. Key among these is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding combined with a focus on safe, appropriate, complementary feeding.