Among 41 countries that struggle with three forms of malnutrition such as childhood stunting, anaemia in women of reproductive age and overweight among women, 30 are in Africa, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund’s (UNICEF) 2018 Global Nutrition Report
Corinna Hawkes, co-chair of the report and director of the Centre for Food Policy, said, “The figures call for immediate action. Malnutrition is responsible for more ill-health than any other cause. The health consequences of overweight and obesity contribute to an estimated four million deaths globally. The uncomfortable question is not so much “why are things so bad?” but “why things are not better when we know so much more than before?”
Significant steps are being made to address malnutrition. Globally, stunting among children under five years has fallen from 32.6 per cent in 2000 to 22.2 per cent in 2017. Yet, while stunting in children under five years of age is declining at a global level, the numbers in Africa are increasing.
Driven by population growth, despite the decrease in stunting prevalence in Africa, the number of stunted children has steadily increased from 50.6mn in 2000 to 58.7mn in 2017.
New data also highlights that national statistics are not enough to understand the extent of the challenge. A geospatial analysis of undernutrition in 51 African countries, conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, has revealed a striking heterogeneity in levels and trends of undernutrition at national and subnational levels. Even where countries appear to be on track to achieve global targets, the picture is different at the subnational level.
“In Tanzania, a wide range of targets has been adopted – seven in all including for stunting, anaemia and low birth weight. These targets form part of the National Multisectoral Nutrition Action Plan 2016–2021, an ambitious five-year action plan to reduce multiple burdens of malnutrition. The plan was set up under the direct leadership of the Prime Minister’s office to reduce all forms of malnutrition associated with both deficiency and excess/imbalances. Its broad goal is to scale up high-impact interventions among the most vulnerable people, including children under five years of age, adolescent girls and pregnant and lactating women,” said the report.
Governments are showing commitment and stepping up to lead action. The Ethiopian government’s commitment to end child undernutrition by 2030 has taken a significant step forward with the recently developed National Food and Nutrition Policy. This accountable, legal framework emphasises the right of children to adequate nutrition and normal growth and strengthens actions outlined in the National Nutrition Programme.