The intelligence of a nation is in the womb

By By Dorcas Mhungu
September 2011
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It is the second time I have interviewed the Prime Minister Nahas Angula on the thorny issue of stunted growth and malnutrition affecting Namibia’s under fives and an issue that takes the glimmer off his normally jocular personality.

The Premier is concerned.

This is the second year the PM is holding steadfast, the steering wheel of the committee assembled to find lasting solutions to reduce and ultimately eradicate the worrisome 30% stunted growth rate in the country.

Into childhood and adulthood, school performance is impeded with subsequent negative effects on earning potential and employment opportunities.

Stunting is an indicator of chronic under nutrition and past the second year of life stunting, regrettably is irreversible, Regional Governors were told at a recent meeting convened by Angula.

Critical to the findings and recommendations of health experts among the stakeholders, is the need to ensure that all girls, women of child bearing age, and pregnant women in Namibia must have adequate balanced nutrition.

Postnatal interventions also need to be implemented to arrest maternal and infant mortality among young children.

From these facts and findings, it is evident that Governments must seriously consider implementing sustainable programs to ensure that women consume healthy food before and throughout their childbearing period if a nation has to have an intelligent and healthy people.

“If a child is malnourished at the age of two, the intellectual development is retarded. Malnutrition is both an economic and social problem because if your population is not developed, your economic productivity is in jeopardy,” Angula speaks with a tone that lays bare his concern as he recaps progress made in the past 24 months.

The National Alliance for Improved Nutrition was appointed in December 2010 to create awareness in people to appreciate and accept that malnutrition is indeed a problem in Namibia.

Angula says some of the children have disparities in age, height and weight.

“Some of their height does not match their ages and some of their weight does not match their ages too. The children are wasted and stunted. The consequences are children become prone to opportunistic diseases and because of weak immune systems, the children are likely to die and that is why we have high infant mortality rate.”

Angula says that one area where as a nation, the high mortality rate is in discord with the Millennium Development goals, specifically MDGs 1 target C – the reduction by 30% of underweight in all children aged five years and under and MDG 4 – the reduction of child mortality by 15% by year 2015.

“We will not be able to achieve it with the current trend.

All daggers are drawn to combat this monster called malnutrition that is the cause of stunted growth and high in children under five years of age.

The Premier, with the help of various stunting is an indicator of chronic under nutrition and past the second year of life stunting is irreversible.

Interventions addressing stunting are most effective when undertaken in the a narrow window period of 1000 days covering preconception through to the second year of life, Angula said at the Governors convention.

Stakeholders that include international organizations like United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Program (WFP) are giving technical back-up as all pull their expertise to tackle the challenge which might derail achievement of Vision 2030 goals.

The National Alliance for Improved Nutrition is working closely with food processors especially millers to fortify mealie-meal that is milled in the remote areas.

Government is looking for affordable technology that village millers can use to fortify the Mahangu they grow.

The Prime Minister recently met with all the regional governors and the chief executive officers of the country’s 13 regions, to get an overview of the malnutrition levels in the different regions so that solutions are implemented according to individual regional profiles on malnutrition.

The Northern region, Angula says, has the highest prevalence of malnutrition and subsequent stunted growth problem.

“A survey too will be carried out to determine the staples food communities are consuming and to determine what nutritional elements lack in the diets We need resources and just for the survey, we need N$500 000.

“We already have food fortification in cooking oil, milk, mealie-meal. Namibia being a dry country, people here do not consume enough fresh fruits and vegetables,” Angula said and added that the Ministry of Health and Social Services is working on a bill that will make it mandatory to fortify certain foods.

Angula said Namibia Dairies, a subsidiary of Ohlthaver & List group of companies in response to the malnutrition problem, developed a long life milk product that is fortified and will be introduced by the Ministry of Health in its feeding programs in schools throughout the country.

Stunted growth, Angula noted, is a problem that is not visible to the eye but the sorry state of underperforming children is evident on their antenatal health cards. PF