Harare records 150 percent increase in child malnutrition

THERE is reportedly been a sharp increase in malnutrition cases in Harare mainly in children below the age of five at the back poor living and dietary conditions, HealthTimes has learnt.

By Michael Gwarisa

Reliable sources from within the City of Harare Nutrition department who spoke to this publication revealed that malnutrition was rising at an alarming rate.

What we have noticed in the statistics that we are currently having now is that 90 percent of the affected are children below the age of five. Comparing 2021 and 2022 data, there has been a marked increase in terms of malnutrition. There was a 150 percent increase in the percentage of malnutrition cases in Harare. Those are the under-fives.”

Some of the most affected areas include High Density suburbs and peri-urban communities such as Hopley, Epworth among others where most people are struggling economically to source adequate and nutritious foods. No cases have been recorded from low and medium density suburbs as yet.

Efforts to get a comment for the Harare City Health Director, Dr Prosper Chonzi were fruitless as his mobile phone went unanswered and he had not responded to our text inquiry by the time of going to print.

However, contacted for comment, Harare City Health Epidemiology and Diseases Control Officer, Dr Michael Vere said they have devised numerous strategies to combat urban malnutrition especially in children.

“Malnutrition generally can affect anyone. The most vulnerable groups can be the younger ones, the under-fives in particular and the elderly. In terms of strategies that we are implementing on malnutrition, we are firstly educating communities on nutrition and how to prepare nutritious foods. We know that some people might have some of the resources but might not be having the knowhow on how to prepare nutritious food.

“We also do have nutrition rehabilitation facilities in our clinics. We encourage those who do have probably those kind of problems to visit our clinics. We have got what we call Plumpy nut which is provided in the clinics. At the clinics, they are also taught about nutrition gardens where they can also do the same at their homes. Nutrition gardens are basically where you will need to grow foods that will give you a balanced diet. We are also engaging partners and partners are actually coming to us offering to assist in the area of malnutrition and these are programs that are ongoing,” said Dr Vere.

Commenting on the issue, renowned Nutritionist and ZCSOSUNA National Coordinator, 
Mr Kudakwashe Zombe blamed the rise in urban malnutrition on COVID-19.

“I strongly believe that the long last effects of the Covid-19 pandemic affected families sources of income and that resulted in food and nutrition insecurity hence the increase in malnutrition cases. Social protection interventions such as cash transfer projects can reduce the burden on families especially during this peak hunger period,” said Mr Zombe.

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has exacerbated malnutrition among children in the country. In Harare and Bulawayo provinces, GOAL Zimbabwe, in partnership with the two City Councils and the Health Ministry, is helping to improve child nutrition by training nurses and mothers to identify malnutrition early and providing cash transfers to families to ensure that they have adequate food after the treatment.

This 2021 report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee showed a national Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence of 2.8 percent, with a Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) rate of 1.1 percent. The proportion of children aged 6 to 23 months receiving a minimum acceptable diet, was low at 3 percent.

However, the Zimbabwe Annual Report 2021 indicated that stunting rates have decreased in the last 15years in the country — from 31% in 2007, 39 per cent in some rural areas, to a national rate of 23.5 per cent. This could serve as evidence that Linkages and other such interventions are recording some positive results. It is imperative that the government of Zimbabwe and development partners carry out a formal study to assess the results of these interventions and leverage this momentum to sustain and possibly, improve on them to effectively address nutrition vulnerabilities among children.

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