By Gitonga Njeru

A steep rise in vital food prices coupled with severe shortages in Kenya, can be blamed for the rise in pregnancy related complications in Kenya.

Medical experts say that this can be due to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the prevention directives that have been enforced by the government since the pandemic’s onset.

“The restrictions and partial lockdowns associated with the Corona Virus have affected food prices and availability. Also, production went down in Kenya by 40 percent last year because of the partial lockdowns and movement restrictions,” says Prof Germano Mwabu, an Economics Professor and World Bank Consultant for Africa.

“About 30,000 women in urban Kenyan slums get pregnant each year. Food prices of some essential commodities sky rocketed to more than 50 percent last year. Out of the total, 13,000 are teenage pregnancies, meaning that most of them are unemployed and cannot cater for their own everyday food expenses.”

Professor Mwabu adds that Kenya’s food imports reduced by 15 percent last year, probably as a result of global travel restrictions.

According to Dr. Mosses Lango, a Paedetrician and Neonatologist in Nairobi, cases of genetic diseases in young children slightly increased in his hospital last year.

“I was getting two new cases of rare genetic diseases in my clinic every day. This is very obvious; many pregnant women did not feed on the proper required food nutrients while they were pregnant. Most genetic diseases are incurable but most can be managed and treated. The infants also developed low cognitive functioning due to poor diets when their mothers were pregnant,” says Dr. Lango.

He says that the government should do a national survey of the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant and lactating mothers on nutrition. According to him, loss of income could be an obstacle for poor diets.

The Paediatrician says that the most vital foods for pregnant women are fish products which help in the development of nervous system and eyes.

“Eggs are also very vital as they not only contain high value protein but choline, which is good for the development of the brain. Also legumes such as Sweet Potatoes which help in the growth and differentiation of body cells”, says Dr. Lango, who once worked as a doctor in the Ministry of Health.

He adds that kale is a good vegetable as it is rich in folic acid which prevents low birth weight in neonatal babies and increases the blood supply. Starchy foods, he adds, are rich in vitamins and fibre.

“Poor diet during pregnancy can lead to preterm births. It can also lead to different birth defects”, explained Dr. Lango.

There are fears that mother to child transmissions of HIV could also be a problem. This is partly because of the prevailing shortage of antiviral drugs vital for the treatment of HIV.  This also lowers the immunity levels of many mothers and their offspring.

Speaking during a Webinar hosted by International Center For Journalists ( ICFJ), Dr. Agnes Kalibata, United Nations Secretary General  to the 2021 Food Systems Summit  says that, the hunger problem could worsen with the pandemic.

The Rwandan Agricultural Scientist and policy maker observes that one third of all food harvested is lost or wasted, worsening the global hunger problem.

“Before the pandemic in March last year, there were 820 million people worldwide who were classified as food insecure. In May last year, 368 million children were missing out on school meals. Globally, 690 million people are hungry and 250 million of them are in Africa”, says Dr. Kalibata who was once Rwanda’s Agriculture Minister.

She says that the upcoming food systems Summit scheduled for September 13th will raise awareness on food systems. It will also highlight the urgency of transforming food systems especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But importantly, she says that this will depend on the governance structures put in place by countries.

“We only have nine years remaining for the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deadline. We are heading on a good path”, says Dr. Kalibata, noting that policy issues should address access to land and land tenure systems.

“Land tenure systems and access to land are very vital in improving food systems. Good policies are vital by governments. But also, need for knowledge and innovations on food systems”, said Dr. Kalibata.