Africa nutrition meet: Why it is a big deal

Children take porridge at Mageragere Early Childhood Development Centre in Nyarugenge District. / Sam Ngendahimana

Kigali is set to host the fourth General Assembly of the Federation of African Nutrition Societies (FANUS), which begins on Monday, with a focus on child stunting as a major public health concern across the African countries

The four-day meeting will convene experts to deliberate on child stunting, an issue that many experts continue to recognise as a problem that robs countries’ economies of their potential for development

The meeting comes at a time experts and international health organisations have raised concern over the increased burden of malnutrition in Africa with millions of children affected by life-threatening severe acute malnutrition, especially in West and Central Africa.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other UN agencies, 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 due to population growth.

The rate of wasting in 2017 was 7.1 per cent or 13.8 million children, of whom 4 million were severely wasted.

That prevalence is attributed in part to food insecurity, humanitarian crises, lack of good nutrition standards and absence of fully functional health systems in many countries.

Experts attending the meeting are expected to debate and deliberate around what the continent needs to reduce the malnutrition burden among African countries.

And as organisers say, it will equally be an opportunity to showcase some countries’ achievements in addressing malnutrition in Africa.

Countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, and Namibia have been widely recognised for fighting malnutrition.

The president of Rwanda Nutritionists Society, Dr. Christine Mukantwali, said the conference will be an exchange forum of best practices and approaches from those countries.

“The conference itself is a good platform to jointly strengthen the functioning of national nutrition societies and influence nutrition in Africa,” she said.

Rwanda, she added, will particularly benefit in diverse ways as policymakers, decision-makers, and other professionals get updated knowledge and best practices from diverse speakers of the conference.

But at the same time, Mukantwali highlighted that Rwandan professionals were looking forward to sharing the country’s journey to fight malnutrition and what it took to achieve the results.

The conference will run under the theme, Nutrition in Action for Sustainable Development in Africa, bringing together nutrition experts and participants with experiences in implementing nutrition-specific and sensitive interventions from government institutions, and non-governmental organisation.

Members of research institutes, academia, developmental organisations and private sector from all over Africa and the rest of the world are also to be part of the highly anticipated meeting.

Mukantwali told Sunday Times that Rwanda was selected to host the conference based on its strong leadership and political commitment to eliminate all forms of malnutrition.

Rwanda is an active member in the international arena as it actively participates in programmes related to fighting malnutrition.

Rwanda Nutritionists’ Society (RNS) is internationally recognised as it is an active member of FANUS and the International Union of Nutrition Sciences (IUNS).

While undernutrition in children is still a problem, some countries in Africa have achieved good progress towards the reduction of stunting. 

For example, according to the 2014-15 Rwanda DHS, stunting declined from 51 per cent in 2010 to 38 per cent in 2015 among under five-year-old children.

In Ghana stunting declined from 20 to 13 per cent between 2008 and 2014.

In Kenya, it declined from 33 per cent to 23 per cent between 2008 and 2013, while in Namibia the stunting fell from 37 per cent to 13 per cent between 2007 and 2003.

Such is expected to be shared with members who are still undergoing the high burden of malnutrition.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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