Malnutrition – A Silent Killer
Four years into the adoption of the Ghana Nutrition Policy of 2013, it is still strapped with challenges that are limiting its implementation at the decentralized level.
Many programmes and strategies have been put in place to end malnutrition and hunger, but the results have been slow and cases continue to persist in many parts of the country with the three northern regions, the worst hit.
This has been so because no benchmarks are set to track results of interventions introduced to deal with issues bothering on nutrition among different segments of the society.
Despite reports of growing cases of under-nutrition in Ghana and the rest of Africa, strategies and interventions are not backed by strong political will and funding.
The result is that about 165 million children in the African continent suffer conditions related to nutrition.
Linked to this are the bad road infrastructure, the difficulty of transporting food from the farming communities and the high rates of post-harvest that tend to impact on food prices – unstable food markets.
A study by the World Food Programme and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture on Emergency food security and market systems in Ghana, in 2016, showed that 15.6 per cent of assessed households in the northern regions, Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions were food insecure. Of these, 15 per cent were moderately food insecure while less than one percent was severely food insecure.
The report said most of the food insecure households were found in the Talensi-Nabdam, Garu-Tempane, Bongo, Lambussie-Karni, Jirapa, Central Gonja, Savelugu-Nanton, Nanumba North and Tain.
Meanwhile three out of the 10 most food insecure districts were in the Upper East Region and this was consistent with the findings of the 2012 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis that identified the Upper East Region as the most food insecure.
These at least provide facts and figures upon which any planned intervention should be based. This, however, has not been the case, regarding strategies employed in various interventions and policies aimed at promoting optimal nutrition in communities.
CARING FOR THE MALNOURISHED CHILD
A visit to one year old Kelvin’s house in Shega and Gideon, 15 months old, in Zubeong, near Tongo in the Talensi District exposed the difficulties their mothers faced in caring for their babies who weighed below the average weight at their ages and had mid upper arm circumference (MOAC) measurement ranging between 10.3 and 11.0cm.
These are living testimonies of the malnutrition cases some families have had to contend with.
Talata, one of the mothers told this reporter the ordeal she had to go through caring for her children, a difficult task for someone with no income source.
Dietary supplements to enhance the conditions of the malnourished children such as plumpy nuts have not been supplied to them because they are in short supply in the district.
The malnutrition situation in the Talensi District is disturbing as the Health Directorate has had virtually no budgetary support from the District Assembly to support any nutrition-related activity since 2015.
Speaking with the Talensi District Director of Health Services in Tongo, Ms. Estella Abazesi, said agriculture and health could not be separated. The implications of poor feeding of pregnant women and the effect on their babies should not be underestimated. She expressed worry at the increasing rate of cases of anaemia among pregnant women in the district, who have been visiting the health centre in Tongo and surrounding CHPS compounds.
STAKEHOLDERS WORKING FOR CHANGE
It is heart-warming that Organizations such as the Netherlands Development Organization – Ghana (SNV) in partnership with the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Voice for Change (V4C) Partnership programme, are working hard towards strengthening the capacity of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)s to advocate for increased budgetary allocations and expenditure, increased private sector investment, improved coordination and effective implementation of the nutrition policies in Ghana.
Mr Eric Banye, Country Programme Coordinator of the V4C programme, identified the main challenges in the implementation of the Nutrition policy as the limited coordination and weak relationship within the stipulated implementation structures of the policy from the national, district and community levels of the nutrition committees.
Although a number of sectors including the Ministries of Finance, Agriculture, Health and Gender among others were key players in the structures, clear ownership of the implementation was lacking.
He added that not until the government and for that matter the National Development Planning Commission accepted to lead the implementation of the policy, stakeholders would continue to work in isolation, something unhelpful to delivering the expected outcomes.
Mr Ibrahim Akalbila, the Coordinator of the Ghana Trade Livelihoods Coalition, noted at a just ended Regional Policy Dialogue on the Planting for Foods and Jobs (PFJs) that the government’s agricultural interventions were still bedevilled with difficulties of accessing agricultural services.
He underlined that good nutrition was a pointer to real development.
Lamenting on the high rates of malnutrition, stunting and wasting among Ghanaian adults, Mr Akalbila said more was needed to be done.
His organization was passionate about monitoring the implementation of some government policy interventions and to advocate for better services.
“If we produce and don’t eat right, it is a problem.” Households should be able to produce enough, buy enough and be able to feed well with nutritious food.
“When every Ghanaian child has access to nutritious food from first day of birth to adulthood and when we are able to report severe cases of malnutrition in our communities and finally when agriculture inure to better livelihoods then I can say we have arrived”
The Goal Two (2) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), places emphasis on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture.
It further employs all countries to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children less than 5 years of age, address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.
As the clock ticks there is need to focus more investment and priority attention on nutrition.
It is important to have targets and consumption indicators to address malnutrition on annual basis especially in the District Assemblies Annual Programme of Actions.
The Government of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s flagship “Planting for Food and Jobs” policy is a welcome intervention – promoting agriculture, food security and job creation. It also shows how the international community is eager to assist improve livelihoods and fight hunger as exemplified by the 125 million Canadian dollars support.
Ghana must deliver the PFJs well and endeavour to remove any gaps in the distribution of inputs so that it will be equitable, to avoid fertilizer smuggling and also ensure its availability at the right time for the farmers.
Roads leading to the farms to cart food to the markets should be made accessible to prevent post-harvest losses.
The intervention should also be gender sensitive to make sure that women who bear the crux of caring for the families have enough to eat, earn income and remain healthy.