By Stella Mugena
Malnutrition and maternal, child and infant mortality have improved but remain unacceptably high at a national rate of 54% of children under 18 in Uganda.The national average indicates about 33% of children below the age of five years are stunted, 4% are underweight and those 6% are wasted. This is a life threatening condition and therefore undermines the development of their growth and the country at large.
The common causes of malnutrition are attributed to food insecurity, dependence on agriculture, declining wages and rising food prices in the Uganda. While poverty has declined across Uganda from 31% in 2006 to 24% in 2010, improvements in the prevalence of poverty are largely attributable to economic growth rather than income distribution. This is further made worse with the increasing income inequality between the wealthy and the poor which has continued to rise in the recent years. Gender inequality has continued to provide a significant linkage with poverty and food insecurity being identified as a primary reason for the obstinate poverty in Uganda. This is further made worse with the income inequality between men and women, where the women essentially have limited access to resources such as land and capital.
Uganda being an agro based country, where majority of people depend on agricultural sector, and where mainly women (80%) contribute to food production for the country still suffers from malnutrition with many families/households with no meals in a day. Inadequate nutrition has been recognized as one of the factors that affects human development and economic productivity in a country. This results to mortality and loss of productivity that impedes social and economic development.
Children who suffer from malnutrition have very low immunity, making them more prone to treatable illnesses and infections like colds, diarrhea, etc. Such children are also dull, unhappy and have little interest in their surroundings. The developments of their brains are affected since the first five years are very crucial in human development. As a result, malnutrition has diverse effects on his/her capabilities more especially in education. Such children do not perform well at school and therefore end up suffering with old jobs.
The high number of children suffering from malnutrition is worrying and this means that Uganda is sitting on a time bomb, whereby soon the majority of people will have suffered from malnutrition. There is a big link between malnutrition and human development hence affecting the quality of the people in the near future.
To control the situation, the Government should focus on health promotion and education to create awareness on the prevention of malnutrition among women of reproductive age and their children at community and facility levels. This will contribute to reduction in child malnutrition and mortality. This will also reduce on the costs /amount of funds spent on the treatment of malnourished children since access to health services has remained low and still worse in rural areas.
Information sharing with communities on nutrition should be further shared with the communities in a more simplified manner and in local languages. This will encourage the community members to take up the messages seriously. This can be further enhanced by use of SMS to remind the mothers the specific foods/meals to prepare for their children and themselves.
All the above can be effectively be done by the Government committing herself to strengthening the Nutrition Division of the Ministry of Health so as to increase resources for nutrition programming and more especially on increased allocation for nutrition supplies like vitamin A, iron/foliate supplements; etc.
The writer works with Uganda Debt Network.