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WHO African countries adopt plan to reduce malnutrition

AFRICAN countries have adopted a strategic plan that aims at reducing the double burden of malnutrition in the region, outlining “urgent and accelerated” actions to take in ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030.

The plan was adopted during the ongoing 69th regional committee meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the African Region. The committee that meets once in a year to review health issues consists of the health ministers of the 47 member states of the region.

The WHO African director, Matshidiso Moeti said the double burden of malnutrition has been prevalent, particularly in countries where undernutrition and overweight or obesity coexist.

The diets listed to be causing the malnutrition to include the increasing consumption of cheap, processed foods that are high in energy, fat and salt content but low in nutrient quality.

Moeti said the diet, common in Africa, failed to address chronic undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. It contributed to increased obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO African region director addressing the committee at the meeting on Tuesday. Photo credit: Twitter/ @WHOAfro

“The WHO Secretariat will be developing and implementing a resource mobilisation plan, supporting research collaborations and mounting high-level advocacy for increased investment to reach 90 per cent coverage of the ten highest-impact nutrition interventions that must be taken to meet the malnutrition challenges in our region,” she said.

According to the health agency, the number of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 181 million in 2010 to almost 222 million in 2016.

Among children, although the prevalence of stunting decreased from 38.3 per cent in 2000 to 30.3 per cent in 2017, the numbers affected increased from 50.6 million to 58.7 million. WHO said the growth was due to population growth

It noted that that undernutrition in the early years of life increases the risk of noncommunicable diseases in later life.

Overweight rates are also increasing.

The number of children younger than five years who are overweight increased from 6.6 million in 2000 to 9.7 million in 2017.

For children aged 5–19 years, obesity rates doubled between 2006 and 2016, while for adults, overweight and obesity increased from 28.4 per cent in 2000 to 41.7 per cent in 2016.

According to UNICEF, malnutrition is a direct or underlying cause of 45 per cent of all deaths of under-five children in Nigeria. The country has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five.

UNICEF estimated that about 2 million Nigerian children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. And seven per cent of women of childbearing age also suffers from acute malnutrition.

Thus, the strategic plan adopted by all the 47 countries, including Nigeria, would give priority to the reinforcement of legislation and food safety standards,  using fiscal measures to incentivize healthy food choices and integrating essential nutrition actions in health service delivery platforms.

Containing clear targets to be achieved by 2025, all the African countries were encouraged to establish financing targets and increase sustainable domestic funding for nutrition. They were also urged to integrate actions to strengthen nutrition-sensitive agriculture and trade policies.

WHO also asked the countries to develop and strengthen national policies, legislation or regulations, monitoring their implementation and applying incentives to promote and protect healthy diets.

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