THE status of nutrition in the country, especially among children below five years of age is critical, a situation that calls for concerted efforts among stakeholders if Tanzania wants to build human capital capable of competing on the global stage.
The report titled Tanzania National Nutrition Survey 2018 which was released recently shows that stunting among children below five is now becoming a matter of serious concern with the situation becoming worse in Kagera, Kigoma, Mwanza, Geita and Dodoma regions in terms of absolute numbers.
Leading the session organised by AgriThamani, a non-governmental organisation to share the findings of the survey this week in Dar es Salaam, the National Nutrition Coordinator from the President’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Governments), Mr Waibe Mwita (pictured), said there was a pressing need to conduct a shortagemassive sensitisation campaign to rescue the country from the impending disaster.
He said according to the survey conducted using Standardised Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Tran sitions (SMART) between September and November last year, Kagera had 224,634 stunted children while Kigoma had 207, 400.
Geita had 185,000 stunted children while Dodoma had 161,000.
Mwanza Region also did not fare well. But the report expands the picture by placing Kagera, Kigoma, Mwanza, Geita, Dodoma, Dar es Salaam, Simiyu in a group of seven regions with the highest number of stunted children (above 150,000 stunted children) in terms of absolute numbers.
However, looking at the figures in the findings in terms of percentage, Njombe, Rukwa, Iringa, Songwe, Ruvuma, Kagera and Kigoma fall in the group of regions with the highest stunting prevalence.
“The report is a bit technical because if one is not careful enough interventions may quickly be focused on regions with the highest stunting prevalence clustered in terms of percentages while the problem is more serious in regions with the stunted children grouped by looking at absolute numbers. All in all we have a serious problem to deal with,” Mr Mwita explained.
He said until the survey was conducted last year Tanzania had around nine million children under five years of age, of which three million of them, the equivalent of 31.8 per cent, were stunted.
The nutritionist said given the fact that one of the aspects that Tanzania gears to achieve in its development vision 2025 is develop a highly skilled manpower imbued with initiative, addressing the question of stunting which is caused by malnutrition is not an option.
According to the expert, the report shows that malnutrition is prevalent even in regions with good food availability, indicating that the problem has to do with lack of knowledge on how to balance diet.
But the expert went a step further to call for affirmative action on addressing malnutrition to women in the child bearing age and expectant mothers as stunting of a child starts from the first day of pregnancy, if an expectant mother is malnourished until the baby reaches second birthday ( 1000 days).
The first 1,000 days of life of the baby is the time spanning roughly between conception and one’s second birthday and it is a unique period of opportunity when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established.
“If we want to build the best foundation of developing a good human capital in this country, we must focus on addressing these 1000 days. This is the period when we indeed prepare individuals who will become good engineers, doctors, leaders, pilots, journalists, physicists, and so forth,” he said with a light touch.
Nutritionists across the world say stunting has lifelong consequences on children as it leads to cognitive development, resulting in low performance and lower earning as adults. which in turn affects national economic growth.
But the good news in the report is that at national level, the prevalence of chronic malnutrition or stunting among children aged 0 to 59 months (below five years of age) decreased from 42 per cent in 2010 to 34.7 in 2014 before it decreased further from 34.4 per cent in 2015 to 31.8 per cent last year.
According to Agri Thamani Managing Director MS Lilian Lugakingira, regional and district commissioners and local government and political parties have been fully involved in the plan to conduct a sensitisation campaign on nutrition.
“This is a matter that needs concerted efforts. If we don’t address it, we have opted to perish as the consequences to the nation are horrendous, both socially and economically,” she said.