By Sharon Atieno
Despite the Kenyan constitution stipulating that every child has a right to basic nutrition and freedom from hunger, Kenya has been listed among the countries facing a triple burden of malnutrition-overweight, anaemia and stunting.
While stunting is preventable through employing good feeding practices such as exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding during a child’s first two years of life, around 1.9 million children under five years in Kenya are stunted (too short for age). Nairobi leads in stunting followed by Mandera and Kakamega.
Other statistics reveal that 11 percent of the 7 million children in this age group are underweight (too thin for age), 4 percent are overweight and obese while 4 percent are wasted (too thin for height). With Mandera leading in wasting followed by Nairobi and Turkana.
Although malnutrition indicators are improving, it is estimated that from 2010-2030 under nutrition will cost Kenya approximately USD 38.3 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) due to losses in workforce productivity. This is because, stunted workers are less productive in both manual and non-manual labour.
Moreover, undernourished children have a lower resistance to infection which results in increased cases of related pathologies such as diarrhea, anaemia, acute respiratory infection and fever among others. Malnutrition is the single greatest contributor to child mortality at 53 percent.
Stunted children are also more likely to repeat grades in school or even drop out. As a result there will be an intergenerational cycle of poverty.
Kenya has made great efforts in dealing with malnutrition which is one of the greatest public health burdens in the country. One intervention is the development of Food and nutrition Security Strategy (FNSS) which identifies priority interventions and delegates responsibilities among the key players in nutrition and food security.
The 2012 National Nutrition Action Plan (NNAP) provides government and nutrition stakeholders with a framework to effectively coordinate and implement nutrition-focused policies and programmes that are needed to address malnutrition in Kenya.
In addition, the Government of Kenya focused efforts to implement 11 High Impact Nutrition Interventions (HiNi) across the country such as: promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, Vitamin A and micronutrient supplementation for children, iron-folate supplementation for pregnant women, food fortification, salt iodization, and deworming have been proven to be effective in reducing malnutrition and mortality in children.
To support these goals, Kenya has joined the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, a global effort aimed at bringing country and global leaders together to fight against malnutrition with the goal of mobilizing broad commitment and resources.
Despite these efforts, there is need to increase funding for nutritional activities in the national and county budgets. According to a 2016 World Bank Group report on investment framework for nutrition in Kenya, it is estimated that, for every USD 1000 spent on key nutrition interventions to reduce stunting, Kenya would generate USD 16, 000 in increased income.
Like Ghana, Kenya needs to invest in increased market access for farmers to sell their produce as well as incentivizing farm production. The reason for increased overweight and obese cases in Kenya is due to healthy foods being expensive thus, leaving room for people to access junk food.
“There is need for nutrition to move from being a unit to a directorate, this will ensure coordination of resources,” said Rahab Mwaniki, campaign manager, Kenya AIDs NGOs Consortium (KANCO) while giving a presentation on nutrition.
There is also need for nutrition to be prioritized at the county level. “Money allocated to nutrition should not be re-allocated to do other things,” she added.
If Kenya is to reach the targets under Sustainable Development Goal number two on zero hunger and emerge fight the malnutrition menace, there is need for increased investment in funding and resources at both county and national levels