Nutrition Crucial For Pregnant, Lactating Women & children During Droughts

AS our nation slowly plunges into what has been projected to be one of the most catastrophic droughts over decades, it is crucial that key decision makers in government ministries take cognizance of the fact that good nutrition takes center stage in human and economic development of our country.

By Kudakwashe Zombe

According to the World Food Program (WFP),  Zimbabwe was facing another famine following indications that the 2020 harvest  could be low at the back continued dry spells. The WFP said it was appealing to the international community to raise over US$200 million to feed more than half the country’s population  in 2020.

The revised Flash Appeal of 2019 indicated that nearly 5.3 million people in Zimbabwe were estimated to be in the urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection during the 2018/2019 lean season (October to April) and beyond. It also highlighted that more than 72 200 children were anticipated to be affected by acute malnutrition in all districts in the country between March and May 2019.

In addition, the report noted that 360 000 young children aged 0 to 23 months, nearly 906 000 children aged 6 to 59 months and nearly 575 400 pregnant and lactating women with elevated nutrition needs in 24 districts were likely to be affected by food insecurity.

These statistics are highly likely to sharply increase during the same period in the 2019/2020 season as a result of the anticipated drought. Under nutrition will rise due to increasing food insecurity, economic strain, and unaffordability of basic food commodities.

While men, women, girls and boys in the country are all affected by drought the impact tends to vary. The groups most affected by malnutrition includes pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children due to their high nutritional needs and detrimental effects of poor nutrition on the health of the mothers and their children. Under nourished pregnant women are at an increased risk of giving birth to low birth weight infants.

Maternal malnutrition has an important implication for the health outcomes of both pregnancy and newborns. It reduces productivity, recovery from illness and increases the susceptibility to infections and death. In general, maternal malnutrition has an intergenerational effect and hence working on its prevention is long term investment that benefits current and future generations.

On the other hand, children who do not get enough food, both in terms of quality and variety are more susceptible to infectious diseases. They are also at risk of developing severe acute malnutrition a dangerously low weight and severe muscle wasting condition which is a major case for death for children under five.

Under nutrition during the first 1000 days of life that is from conception until a child is two years can reduce a child’s IQ by up to 10%.

This has educational, income and productivity consequences that reach far into adulthood. The economic costs of undernutrition, in terms of lost national productivity and economic growth are significant. Collectively the costs of poor nutrition represent an estimated loss of 2-3% of country’s GDP, yet the losses can be as high as 16%.

Good nutrition enables children to develop healthy immune systems, reducing future spending on healthcare throughout their lives. It unlocks children’s potential, children who get the right nutrition early in life will earn on average 21% more as adults.

As a nation we need to scale up nutrition programs targeting pregnant and lactating women as well as children especially those below the age of two years in preparation for the anticipated drought. We cannot afford to delay since our economic future depends on it. Zimbabwe’s future economic success lies in increasing human capital-schooling, knowledge and skills that will allow Zimbabweans to compete and thrive in a global economy. This can only be achieved by ensuring that all citizens including vulnerable groups get the right nutrition at all times even during crisis periods like this season’s emanating drought.

As a nation we need to take precautions as a means of mitigating the effects of the emerging drought. The Ministry of Health and Child Care need to strengthen its provision of life saving essential nutrition services and community-based management of acute malnutrition.

These interventions should prioritize children and pregnant women who are always at highest risk of illness and death in food insecure districts. Care givers are expected during the drought period to take their children for growth monitoring at health facilities and outreach points religiously as this helps in early identification of signs of poor growth.

The anticipated drought will compromise access to safe clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene practices in both rural and urban areas increasing the risk of water borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. As such there is need to increase awareness of safe hygiene and sanitation practices with a focus on participatory health and hygiene education.

Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare should ensure that social safety nets mainly target pregnant and lactating women and children. There is also need to ensure they reach the poorest of the poor even in remote areas.

The social protection system needs to protect the most vulnerable from shocks and stresses of the anticipated drought. In addition, they should address multiple, inter- related issues including poverty, inequality and food insecurity. In future, development partners should continue supporting the government in improving the food security and nutrition impacts of the current social protection system.

Kudakwashe Zombe is a Nutrition Scientist and the National Coordinator -Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA:

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