Government & EU working together to improve the nutrition status of Kenyan children

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3rd picture: Dr Hjordis Ogendo of the EU with some of the First ladies of the counties represented

It is Mahatma Gandhi who told us that “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” One of the primary sources of a mother’s joy is in seeing her child(ren) growing up healthy and happy. From the onset of a child’s life, a mother would do anything and everything possible to see that the child’s needs are met; one of those essential needs includes ensuring proper nutritional value.

To develop to their optimal potential, it is vital that children are provided with nutritionally sound diets. Diet and exercise patterns during childhood and adolescence may spell the difference between health and risk of disease in later years. Giving a child a solid nutritional start has an impact for life on her or his physical, mental and social development however some mothers are unable to provide this for their children either due to economic, social or geographical factors.

According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2014, 26% of children under the age of five are stunted, 4% are wasted and 11% are underweight. This is a statistic that has been greatly influenced by the fact that many pregnant women are not receiving proper nutrients and the critical vitamins and minerals they need to adequately nourish themselves and their unborn babies.

To curb this menace, The European Union together with the Ministry of Health and partners are gathering in Naivasha for a two-day workshop to discuss how to improve the nutritional status in Kenya. The workshop brings together representatives from the National government, First Ladies from the Counties (Kwale, Siaya, Homa Bay and West Pokot), County governments, Civil society, Academia, the EU, USAID, DfID and UNICEF and FAO.

3rd picture: Dr Hjordis Ogendo of the EU with some of the First ladies of the counties represented
3rd picture: Dr Hjordis Ogendo of the EU with some of the First ladies of the counties represented

The EU has been at the forefront of showing commitment in reducing malnutrition globally. Since 2007, EU has supported nutrition interventions and policies in Kenya to reduce maternal and child death with Sh5 billion and they are currently supporting 15 projects on maternal and child health (MCH) with nutrition components with about Sh1.4 billion.

Mrs Gladys Mugambi, Head of Nutrition and Dietetics Unit in the Ministry of Health has repeatedly pointed out that the nutrition sector cannot do it alone and nutrition within the health sector alone cannot address malnutrition effectively. “Cooperation, coordination and partnerships are essential to achieve success in addressing all forms of malnutrition and the need to scaling up nutrition,” said Mrs. Mugambi, who is also the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) National Focal Point.

While acknowledging the significant progress that Kenya has made through the implementation of Vision 2030 Medium Term Plans, Mrs. Mugambi stressed that malnutrition is amongst the biggest threats to the realisation of the Vision. “One in four children suffers from chronic malnutrition which hinders socio-economic development and the potential to reduce poverty. It is therefore essential that nutrition is prioritised in the national development programs and strategies.”

The Global Nutrition Report 2016 released on June 14 calls for all governments, agencies, parliaments, civil society organisations, donors and business to ensure that future nutrition commitments address all forms and combinations of malnutrition including stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity, overweight, and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases.

The First Lady of Kenya H.E, Margaret Kenyatta is the Patron of nutrition as part of her Beyond Zero Campaign in reducing maternal and child death. Several County First Ladies are also nutrition champions who are playing a key role in advocating for the importance of addressing malnutrition and advocating for inclusion of budget lines for nutrition in their respective Counties.

The European Union (EU) is investing approximately EUR 24.4 million (KES 2.7 billion) in nutrition specific interventions with  EUR 5.4 million (KES 605 million) supporting seven projects  being carried out in Mombasa, West Pokot, Siaya (2 projects), Homa Bay (2 projects) and Migori, with a focus on maternal and child nutrition. The projects are being implemented by civil society organizations together with health authorities at county level.

“The focus of EU support to the government is on improving the nutrition and health status of women and children by engaging various actors at all levels including the national and county leadership, civil society organisations and communities which will lead to increased understanding and political commitment to nutrition at County level,” EU Head of Social and Environment Section, Dr. Hjordis Ogendo said during the two-day nutrition workshop in Naivasha.

Dr. Ogendo urged the actors to be steadfast in charting the course for better nutrition since it is related to improved food production, greater food security, diversified diets and better infant, child and maternal health. “Good nutrition contributes to stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lowers the risk of non-communicable diseases and enhances longevity and improved access to water and adequate sanitation,” Dr. Ogendo added.

Timely nutrition-specific interventions (NSI) at critical points in the lifecycle can have a dramatic impact on reducing malnutrition. These interventions target the underlying and basic causes of malnutrition and aim at reducing malnutrition through improved diets and health especially of young children. These nutrition specific interventions on their own cannot eliminate under-nutrition – a lot still has to be done – however, in combination with the NSIs, there is enormous potential to enhance the effectiveness of nutrition investments in the country.

To follow the continuing conversation on the steps being taken to increase advocacy on nutrition, follow the hashtag #NutritionIsKey

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