NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 1 – A third of Kenya’s children under the age of five suffer from physical and mental stunted growth and cannot therefore reach their full potential, a new report has said.
The Kenya Demographic Household Survey revealed that lack of essential vitamins and minerals was to blame for the problem.
United Nations Children’s Fund Chief Nutritionist Noreen Prendiville who was referring to the report’s findings on Wednesday expressed concern and called on Kenya to make political commitment to address malnutrition in order to achieve Vision 2030.
She observed that the government’s effort to provide free primary education would be futile if the children it catered for suffered from nutritional deficiencies. She stated that Kenya’s Vision 2030 was also at risk due to the malnutrition levels in the country’s future generation.
“We are talking about achieving Vision 2030 and we are still talking about a third of the population working below their full potential. Addressing this issue requires action across all sectors. The health sector has taken it up, the private sector, every sector needs to take it up,” she stated.
Prendiville also revealed that the report showed that only 12 percent of Kenyan women (up from three percent) exclusively fed their newborns on breast milk for the first six months. She held that there was need to educate the masses on the importance of breast feeding as it would secure children’s future health.
“We need to reinforce the message throughout Kenya that exclusive breast feeding for the first six months is the best possible gift you can give to your child; not formula, not replacement or porridge, just breast milk,” she asserted.
Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo said pregnant women suffering from anaemia gave birth to underweight infants explaining that 85 percent of pre-school children had Vitamin A deficiency which exposed them to preventable diseases.
“Statistics indicate that we have approximately 4.9 million cases of anaemia in children under five and in over 4.2 million women of child-bearing age. This has an impact on the working capacity of these women as well as on the future learning ability of the children,” she observed.
Mrs Mugo stated that her ministry had put in place measures that would help address vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
“Apart from encouraging women to breast feed their newborns, we are providing Vitamin A supplementation every six months to children between the ages of six and 59 months. Correcting Vitamin A deficiency reduces under-five mortality by up to 23 percent. It also reduces measles mortality by up to 50 percent,” she revealed.
She pointed out that the current food crisis was making it worse for vulnerable Kenyan groups and made an appeal to all government leaders, non governmental organisations and donors to renew their commitment and increase their investments in delivering vitamins and minerals to Kenyans.
Micronutrient Initiative president Venkatesh Mannar complemented Mrs Mugo’s sentiments adding that the global economic recession as well as the harsh climatic conditions were making it hard for the weak groups to get access to the vital health nutrients.
“Without access to proper foods, millions of people do not get enough of iron, folic acid, iodine and vitamin A. Therefore these people are at risk of blindness, illnesses and even death,” he observed.
He said that Kenya was making good progress in reducing vitamin and mineral deficiencies however observing that more needed to be done.
“Kenya implemented its iodized salt plan, which was proposed some 22 years ago and it is commendable that more than 90 percent of Kenyan households currently consume iodized salt, important for the cognitive development of children. However there is still room for improvement in the health and nutritional sector,” he added.
Canadian High Commissioner Ross Hynes emphasised the need for leaders in Kenya to partner with other governments as well as other interested parties to improve the nutritional deficiencies.
“Essential to the success of any intervention is the commitment of the immediately concerned national government. The government should partner with others in order to fully implement these measures. These kinds of global partnerships can truly and positively improve children’s lives.
The Kenya Demographic Household Survey, is set to launch another report on the specifics of Kenya’s nutritional and health implications. Solving the health and nutritional deficiencies will prevent future health complications for Kenya’s children.