By CAROLINE ARIBA
As part of its annual series, Ugandans Making a Difference, New Vision will, until October 3, publish articles on individuals and organisations that have dedicated their efforts to fighting malnutrition in the country. The articles will highlight the causes, discuss solutions and recognise the efforts of those working to avert the problem that affects up to 54% of childrenunder the age of 18 in Uganda
What started out as an attempt to find the long-lost Food and Nutrition Policy in the archives of Parliament turned out to be a roller-coaster. “Food and Nutrition, no I don’t think that is here. Are you talking about food security?” Charles Bukuwa, a senior information officer at Parliament asked.
Phone call after phone call, it turned out that no one had heard about the Bill, let alone the policy. Defeated, he said maybe the library might have a copy lurking somewhere if, indeed, such document existed. Maybe agriculture; are you sure it is the nutrition one? No. I have never heard of that, but let me check,” a tall light-skinned librarian asked while scavenging through the hard and soft copies. She too was defeated and said maybe; it might be in the Food Security office.
“I doubt there is such a Bill or policy. Maybe some mentions in agriculture here and there; however, it is a health issue and we need to treat it as such,” Musa Wamala, who works with the food security office at Parliament, said. A day later, there was a ray of hope in the form of Eunice Kataaha, a team leader of Policy and Advocacy at the Uganda National NGO Forum. “Yes, there was a policy drafted a couple of years ago, but I think the person you need to talk to is the policy analyst,” she advised and referred me to the principal policy analyst in the Office of the Prime Minister, Innocent Ejolu.
“Yes, there is a Food and Nutrition policy and, in fact, a Bill was supposed to be passed in Parliament,” he said. Ejolu said when it comes to the Food and Nutrition Bill, he described Parliament as a toothless dog. “Before the Bill is passed, Parliament is a toothless dog. They cannot be held responsible for it unless a private member takes it on,” he explains. He adds that the policy has been overtaken by events and so has the Bill. Ejolu adds that the policy, which gave birth to the Bill would have worked if it had been put into action by the health and the agriculture ministries, the line ministries then.
Where is the Bill?
The Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011 report shows that 33% of children below the age of five are stunted, another 14% are too thin, 49% are anaemic, while 23% of mothers in the reproductive age lack Vitamin A. The question remains; where is the bill that should have helped to avert these alarming statistics? Tom Mugisa, the programmes officer in charge of technical services under Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture led the team that drafted the policy and Bill.
“The law was discussed in 2009 and the Government owns the document,” Mugisa explains. This Bill, he says, should have been passed, but after the lengthy discussions, the country went into preparation for the 2011 elections. “I agree it is an important law and though I can’t tell you more, what the public needs to know is that it provides for the establishment of institutions and councils at higher levels to deal with the issue,” Mugisa explains. He adds that if passed into law, the Bill will provide for the enjoyment of a right to food and all those found on the other side of the law will be punished.
The Bill will promote good nutrition in communities
Why is it taking long?
Uganda spends sh1.8 trillion on conditions related to under nutrition annually, the equivalent of 5.6% of the Gross Domestic Product, a recent study by World Food Programme and National Planning Authority dubbed The Cost of Hunger Report 2013, revealed. And as such the country loses $310m (about sh700m) annually, as a result of lost economic productivity, according to the Profiles 2010 report.
One can only wonder why a Bill of such a magnitude would take this long to be passed. Agnes Bako, the person in charge of nutrition at the health ministry, says nutrition issues are multi-sectoral. It was with this notion that they took time to consult and in the next two months, she says, she would have a report from the consultant.
“But after the 2011 elections, there were a number of changes, the ministers were changed and we had to initiate them into the Bill afresh,” she says. Bako also believes the fact that this issue was shared by two ministries made the progress slow. “At least now that the agriculture ministry has taken it on, I am optimistic it will move faster,” she says.
Kataaha says 47% of all child deaths and almost a quarter of all maternal deaths in Uganda are associated with malnutrition and as such something has to be done. She explains that the country already has a good nutrition policy which, if properly followed, would yield good results. She also says it is on the basis of the food and nutrition policy that the Uganda Nutrition Action Plan (2011-2016) was launched by President Museveni in 2011.
“It set a target to reduce stunting in children less than five years to 27% among many other brilliant things,” she says. Innocent Ejolu couldn’t agree more. He says the launch of the Uganda Nutrition Action Plan by the President was a step in the right direction. He, however, emphasises the need to emulate some of the countries that have done it because we are now mid-way the target yet not much has been done.
Burundi, in their Vision, hopes to reduce malnutrition by integrating nutrition into the National Agricultural Investment Plan. This was what the Nutrition policy of 2003 signed by then agriculture minister, Dr. Kisamba-Mugerwa, and Brig. Jim Muhwezi, then health minister, set out to achieve. Ten years later, the question remains; “Is it possible, or is it just a dream?” “It is still possible this Bill is with the cabinet, and it should be passed? It is a good bill, and the country needs it if it is to battle malnutrition,” Mugisa adds.
Do you know any individual or organisation focusing efforts on improving nutrition in communities? Write to the Features Editor, P.O. Box 9815 Kampala or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org giving name, telephone contact of nominee and reasons for nomination. Type food, the nominee’s name and SMS to 8338