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Irish Government commits €4 million to the Sugar Fortification Programme in Malawi

© UNICEF/Malawi/2010/Kubwalo
UNICEF Representative Carrie Auer, Principal Secretary for Nutrition, HIV& AIDS Dr. Mary Shawa and Irish Aid Head of Development Cooperation Dr. Vincent O'Neill sign the Memorandum of Understanding.

Lilongwe, 1 November 2010: The Government of Ireland, through Irish Aid, has announced a commitment of € 4 million ( Mkw 840 million) in support of the elimination of micronutrient malnutrition through the fortification of sugar with Vitamin A. The funds will be administered through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with an initial contribution of €1,000,000 to be made in 2010 and commitments for additional funds rising to a total of € 4 million between 2010 and 2014.

Speaking at a signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding, the Head of Development Cooperation for Irish Aid Dr. Vincent O’Neill said the grant was being provided to support the efforts of the Government of Malawi in improving the nutrition and health status of the population and especially children during the first three years of their lives.

”The Vitamin A sugar fortification programme is an innovative and cost effective initiative between the Government of Malawi, the private sector through Illovo and development partners.  Irish Aid is committed to support the work of the Government of Malawi as it tackles malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and believes that the fortification programme is an accessible and cost effect mechanism for achieving this goal”, explained Dr. O’Neill.

The Irish Aid Head of Development Cooperation noted that the Vitamin A Sugar Fortification Programme shows how Malawi is using innovative and holistic strategies to combat micro-nutrient deficiency.  ”I am reminded of 1,000 Days initiative which was launched by the Governments of Ireland and the United States of America during the meeting of the UN General Assembly last month. The discussions, where the Honorable Dr. Shawa was a key member of the panel, highlighted the importance of ensuring that pregnant women and children under two years of age receive essential nutrition supports - the so called 1000 days (covering the period of conception to the child’s second birthday). This programme being launched today – is fully consistent with the 1000 Days Initiative and will assist the Government of Malawi in preventing the negative effects of malnutrition and giving more children the opportunity to fulfill their potential.”

Speaking on behalf of the government, Principal Secretary for Nutrition and HIV/AIDS in the Office of the President Dr. Mary Shawa thanked Irish Aid, UNICEF and other developing partners, including USAID who also plan to support the programme, for their efforts in reducing malnutrition in Malawi. “Efforts to eliminate malnutrition through sugar fortification started as way back as 1996. I am happy that today we are finally seeing the fruits of these efforts which we could not earlier achieve because there were no resources available, “noted Dr. Mary Shawa.

The project to fortify sugar in Malawi is being implementing by the Department of Nutrition and HIV and AIDS in the Office of the President and Cabinet and Illovo. The funding will enable the government to carry out a large-scale programme to fortify all sugar produced in Malawi with vitamin A. It is expected that 90 per cent of all households that use sugar in Malawi will consume adequately fortified sugar by 2015.

“Micronutrient malnutrition is a major public health concern in Malawi. Deficiencies in vitamin A, iron, and iodine lower the body’s capacity to fight off diseases and impair intellectual development,” said UNICEF Representative Carrie Auer. “It is our expectation that consumption of sugar fortified with vitamin A will reduce sicknesses and deaths among women and children, who are the most severely affected by vitamin A deficiencies.”

Preliminary results from a micronutrient survey conducted in 2009 show that 54 per cent of under-five children in Malawi lack vitamin A. This figure is a decline of 6 per cent on the 2002 prevalence figure of 60 per cent when a similar survey was last conducted. The decline may be attributed to the Vitamin A supplementation programme the government has undertaken every year as part of the Child Health Days. As encouraging as these results are, greater efforts are still needed if vitamin A deficiencies in Malawi are to be eliminated altogether.

That is why sugar fortification is an attractive solution for increasing intake of vitamin A in the population. Over the years, the proportion of the population consuming sugar has gradually been on the rise. It has increased by 13 percent among men, 21 percent among women, and 15 per cent among children.

The sugar fortification programme is one of several wide-ranging interventions the government is implementing to increase vitamin A consumption. Others include food fortification, micronutrient supplementation, nutrition education and dietary diversification.

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