The United Nations in Ghana in June joined the rest of the world to mark the Day of the African Child with a call for more efforts to combat malnutrition. In a press statement issued by the UN system in Ghana, the UN Resident Coordinator appealed for increased efforts by stakeholders to reduce the rate of malnutrition among children in rural and deprived communities in the country.
The UN therefore called for food security and nutrition to be put high on the development agenda by key stakeholders including the Government of Ghana.
This call by the UN to place nutrition high on the development agenda comes in the wake of a looming concern.
Data released recently in the 2013 Lancet Series on maternal and child nutrition found that globally, malnutrition is responsible for nearly half the deaths of children under age 5 years. This underscores an urgent need to invest resources and ensure continued political will to eliminate Malnutrition in Ghana.
Malnutrition starts as early as pregnancy. Children can be born too small or too short because their mother did not consume the right kind and amount of food. Children who do not get the right nutrition during critical growth stages are at risk of compromised physical and cognitive development. Children who are chronically malnourished can end up too short for their age.
This is called ‘stunted’. Being stunted means not only that a child has not reached his or her potential height, but that because the child has not consumed a healthy diet over a long period of time that child is also at risk of not performing as well at school, is more prone to illness and even death.
Good nutrition is not just an issue of how much food a child eats, although they do need to get the recommended amount of energy daily, it is also the quality of food a child consumes.
In addition to stunting, many children also suffer from being too thin and more recently some are becoming overweight, which is also a sign of malnutrition. Every other pregnant woman and every other child in Ghana experience unacceptable levels of iron deficiency anemia, iodine deficiency and/or Vitamin A deficiency.
Close to one out of 4 children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Chronic malnutrition does not only stunt the physical and mental development of children, it reduces their potential, undermining their adult earnings by up to 10 percent and in some countries reduces the size of the economy by up to 11 percent as a result.
The Government of Ghana realizes that the future of Ghanaian Children depends having the best start to life and that means having the best nutrition so that children grow up healthy, intelligent and productive.
The Government has therefore made a commitment to invest in programs and interventions that will help communities and families provide the best nutrition for women in the reproductive age, infants and young children, and the United Nations is supporting the Government to improve the nutrition situation of women and children throughout the country.
Ghana was one of the first countries to join the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, which calls on governments to invest in proven interventions that will reduce malnutrition during the 1,000 day period from pregnancy through the second year of life of the child. During this 1,000 day period of accelerated growth and development, adequate nutrition is critical to ensure healthy growth and the best outcome for the child which will last throughout her entire life.
Evidence has shown that every dollar spent on specific nutrition interventions to reduce malnutrition during the first 1,000 days can give a return of up to fifteen dollars. What is very encouraging is that there are proven, affordable nutrition interventions and when these are scaled up they have shown to reduce malnutrition.
These include interventions to increase micro-nutrient supplementation for women and children, exclusive breast feeding, providing young children with frequent well balanced meals, preventing and treating illness, especially malaria and washing hands with soap at critical times.
It is essential that we continue to dedicate and increase funds to reducing malnutrition in this critical 1,000-day window and work with policymakers on a strategy to ensure that we achieve a significant reduction in malnutrition.
Tackling malnutrition and the devastation it brings to children, families and communities throughout Ghana is not only morally right, it makes sound economic sense. We have, within our reach, solutions to ensure that all our children will grow and develop to their full potential. With good nutrition at a very young age, our children will grow up smart and strong. They will be ready to drive economic-growth and social-development for Ghana.
By:Â UNIC, Ghana