African initiative will 'elevate nutrition to overcome malnutrition'

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock / borgogniels
©iStock / borgogniels
African leaders took a stand against malnutrition this week, with a united commitment to improve the nutritional needs of the continent’s children and reduce the rates of stunted growth and development.

Heads of State, which included The Prime Minister of Lesotho and The President of Madagascar, joined other representatives in the launch of the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) - an initiative to tackle malnutrition and elevate nutrition as driver for economic growth and development.

“There’s every reason to care: poor nutrition is the main cause of death for millions of children under five,”​ said African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina.

“Indeed, 3 million children die every year in Africa from malnutrition. If current trends continue to 2030, Africa will have lost a mind boggling 36 million children because they didn’t have enough to eat or to eat well enough.” 

Along with the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission added their support in nurturing Africa’s ‘grey matter infrastructure’ to help Africa feed itself and become self-sufficient in producing nutritious food.

Nutrition Accountability Score Card

One of the initiatives include the introduction of an Africa Nutrition Accountability Score Card, which rates countries scientifically on their progress in addressing malnutrition and building grey matter infrastructure.

According to the ALN, this innovation will “build incentive to complement and strengthen the commitment”,​ as well as “achieve greater impacts on nutrition, with governments prioritising nutritional investments, through Nutrition-Sensitive Budgeting.”

The ALN, an independent group of experts committed to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security, reckon that malnutrition costs African economies between 3 and 16% of GDP annually.

Adesina was quoted as saying that stunted children today would lead to stunted economies tomorrow adding that “the impact of stunting is irreversible, but preventable”.

Interventions that prevent malnutrition are excellent investments, the ALN added.  For a typical African country, every dollar invested in reducing chronic undernutrition in children yields a €12.9 ($16) return. 

At the launch of the ALN in Addis Ababa, Adesina went on to describe Africa as the only region where the number of stunted children has increased, from 47 million in 1990 to 59 million in 2016.

‘A moral and economic obligation’

“There is both a moral and economic obligation on us to resolve this utterly preventable African disaster. Africa can defeat stunting and malnutrition if its leaders align and leverage their combined will,” ​he told African leaders.

“So, today, I speak for the victims of the silent killer of life: malnutrition. God did not create kids’ stomachs to be empty. Nothing breaks our hearts more than a mother unable to calm the rumbling, hollow stomach of her hungry baby. A proverb in my Yoruba language says, ‘Elders cannot be in the marketplace and watch the heads of babies hang lose when strapped to the mothers back.’”

He urged other leaders to join him adding “You are the elders. You cannot watch as 3 million babies die from malnutrition on the backs of equally malnourished mothers. We all need to hear the voices of these mothers and children and act without delay!”

The President of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who presented an African Union Commission’s study on the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA), described malnutrition as one of the main barriers that prevent children and societies from realising their full potential.

“Stunted children fall ill more frequently – generating high health costs to families and the economy equivalent to between 1-30% of the total public budget allocated to health, or 3% of GDP.

AU Malabo declaration

He referred to the African Union (AU) Malabo declaration created in June 2014, in which the Heads of States and Government of the African Union committed to Africa’s agricultural transformation and food security agenda in the 2015-2025 decade.

“If we reduce current stunting rates by 50% by 2025, we can expect a saving of $21.7bn; if we achieve the AU Malabo goal of reducing stunting to 10% and underweight children to 5 % by 2025, we can expect a saving of up to US $39.3 billion.”

Along with child stunting the declaration also looked to reduce cases of underweight infants to 5% by 2025 by focusing on the first 1000 Days of life as the “only window of opportunity during which permanent and irreversible physical and mental damage would be avoided”.

The Commitment looked to position this goal as a high-level objective in national development plans and strategies, and to establish long-term targets that give all children equal chance for success, by eliminating the additional barriers imposed by child under-nutrition.

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