It is estimated that a total of 2.8 million children in Kenya under the age of five years suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. This is an equivalent of about 26% of children who are at a severe risk of not achieving their optimal growth both physically and mentally and nearly 100,000 children die before their fifth birthday & 50% of these deaths are linked to malnutrition.
Malnutrition is a complex problem with multiple causes: and the problem of malnutrition and stunting is not just as a result of lack of food, but not eating the right food.
One side of malnutrition focuses on the high levels of under-nutrition which is mostly caused by food insecurity in most parts of the country. Due to the frequency of droughts and poor access to water and sanitation, most mothers and children have very little food and water at their disposal, leading to hunger related complications and even death.
The second part is linked to substantial levels of obesity and children being overweight. With a drastic change of lifestyle catalyzed by processes such as the rapid urbanization occurring in many parts of Africa, children are eating a lot of wrong foods causing some of them to be overweight while they are still very young. Both these situations can however be managed. With the right information and knowledge about foods and their nutritional value, families can incorporate these practices in their homes and help to reverse the damage and improve the nutritional status of their children.
In light of this, Seven Seas produced by Merck Consumer Health, a leading science and technology company in healthcare, yesterday unveiled an awareness campaign to actively fight malnutrition in Kenya. The campaign #StrongerGeneration seeks to break the downward cycle of malnourished, weaker generations by engaging the population to practice healthy lifestyles and nutrition habits through influential opinion makers, national media and direct engagements with consumers.
Thomas Onyango, General Manager of Merck Consumer Healthcare in Central Africa said that as a health company, Merck is dedicated to playing a role in reducing malnutrition by raising significant awareness about this issue. The aim of the campaign ‘Together for a Stronger Generation’ seeks to encourage people in Kenya to actively have a conversation about what is being put on the table for their children and how it proactively affects their health.
Also speaking at the launch, Gladys Mugambi, Head of Nutrition, Ministry of Health and Sanitation said the government is working on programmes that will increase the awareness level on the importance of good nutrition for children. She said that children are the most visible and most vulnerable when it comes to undernutrition in the society and the government is also working with institutions in the private sector to ensure that people are made aware of the importance of a balanced diet for children to reduce cases of stunted growth and ailments associated with malnutrition.
This campaign follows Merck Consumer Health’s previous support of initiatives that enable access to healthcare in Kenya, for example the partnership with Beyond Zero, the national initiative by Kenya’s First Lady H.E Margaret Kenyatta to increase access to healthcare services.
Following the proceedings of the panel discussions, one fact that was made clear was that this is not a fight that we can win alone. Mothers all over the country are in dire need of help in knowing what exactly do feed their children seeing as most of them do not have the knowledge forehand of what to feed their children. Seven Seas will be working with Africa Air Rescue (AAR) during roadshows across the country where consumers will benefit from direct engagements with nutritionists, pediatricians and other medical staff who will give them advise on nutrition.
Another point that came up was that even with the government’s decision to provide free education in primary schools, it would not be of any benefit to these kids who go to school hungry. A good breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and without these vital nutrients, a child will not be able to grasp whatever they are taught in school. For the country to effectively help its children, the issue of malnutrition must first be handled.
Kenya, like many other countries, continues to put in more effort to reduce the burden of malnutrition and with initiatives and campaigns like these, with the continued support from the respective key stakeholders in the government and health sector, it’s only a matter of time before we can be sure of ensuring a high quality of life for our people; and especially for our children.