New strategy to tackle malnutrition in Ethiopia

The Ministry of Health (MoH) is eager to lower widespread malnutrition of children under-five-years and has prepared a new National Food Strategic Plan to begin implementation soon.  
A recent National Nutritional Survey conducted by the ministry indicates that about 10.8 percent of children below the age of five in Ethiopia suffer from wasting while 34.1 of children of the same age group show stunted growth and 24.2 percent are underweight.
The report also indicated that 51 percent of mortality in children under five is caused by malnutrition, in Zimbabwe the same mortality rate is 25 percent, less than half of Ethiopia’s.
The survey paints a stark image of the serious nutritional challenges the country faces. Cases of stunted growth, underweight children and wasting are prevalent in several regions with the major micronutrient deficiencies being shortages of Iron, Zinc, Vitamin A and Iodine. Each of these shortages have severe consequences, Iodine deficiency, for example, causes goiter, increased incidence of still births, abortions, congenital abnormalities including cretinism and mental retardation.
The new strategy primarily focuses on the reduction of highly prevalent chronic malnutrition while also aggressively working towards implementation of a better nutrition system for youths and adults. The MoH is in discussion with stakeholders to establish a national nutrition coordination body in the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Industry and Education.
Birarra Melesse, Nutrition Coordinator in MoH, said that malnutrition is still a big challenge for the country despite achievements thus far.
“The great challenge in implementing the national strategy is that there are no specific departments allocated to handle it. So there is misunderstandings between concerned organizations. To solve this problem, we have planned to establish specific departments within the five ministries.”
Collaborations with non-traditional partners are also being considered to address the issue, “We will work intensively with the private sector to bring more food with high nutritional value to decreasing malnutrition. We will provide technical support to farmers and food manufacturers as well strengthen our collaboration with health and social bureaus to achieve our objective.”
Dr. Amha Kebede, Director General of Ethiopia Public Health Institute said that malnutrition not only jeopardizes the lives of those who are malnourished, but also affects the larger framework for economic growth and sustainable development. “Simply put, people cannot get anywhere near their full potential without first overcoming malnutrition,” he said.
“Every child in Ethiopia deserves to grow and develop without the greater risks of illness and premature death that are associated with malnutrition and stunted growth. For this reason, it should be our priority as a nation to invest in nutrition. The evidence also shows that improved nutrition enhances Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth,” he further stated.
The 2015 Global Nutrition Report indicates that one in three people worldwide are malnourished, and the problem exists in every country on the planet. Yet existing strategies to address malnutrition are not being implemented due to lack of funding, skills, or political will.

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