Nutrition and health are inseparable just like a pen and ink. When the ink dries up then the pen ceases to write just like a malnourished person who ceases to be healthy. Malnutrition is broadly defined as a medical condition caused by an improper or insufficient diet.
A nexus can be built between a community’s health status and its diet in terms of accessing the proper nutritional foods.
In Africa it is estimated that most of the 28 million people infected with HIV/AIDS found in the sub Saharan region, also suffer from malnutrition a result of poor conditions caused by poverty.
The most vulnerable being women and children, often the poorest in the society; due to African cultural beliefs that women only, serve a primary function of reproduction and caring for families thus marginalizing them from income generating projects.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), severe acute malnutrition remains a major killer of children under five years of age.
Citing statistics of children in African countries for instance Senegal with a 20 percent and Uganda a 12 percent mortality rate of children with severe acute malnutrition.
Tuberculosis and diarrhoea are also diseases linked to poor malnutrition that have seriously impacted on most poor and less developed African countries.
Science shows that a good diet that contains proteins can protect the immune system preventing several infections that weaken the body.
For instance people living with HIV if well served with micronutrients can live longer before resorting to anti-retroviral hence enhancing their life span. To children such micronutrients impact on growth and development enhancing their life span too.
Its is very unfortunate to find that even the smallest units of food needed to help in enhancing peoples health found around the places we live in, is not properly consumed, people preferring refined less nutritious food from super markets.
A challenge Rwandan policy makers are struggling with as they seek to find ways of enhancing the societies nutritional status.
The Executive Secretary, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, of the Rwanda National AIDS control Commission explains that over the next year Rwanda is faced with the unique opportunity to fundamentally changing the health status of its population.
“Throughout the world, health experts have learned to appreciate the role of micronutrients in preventative health, yet we currently have no program in place to address this need – but this is all about to change,” says Binagwaho.
She further says that micronutrients, another way to refer to vitamins and minerals, are vital to one’s health, yet not easily obtained in Rwanda where the diet of most of our population is poor in vegetables, fruits, and meat.
“Even in places where diets are rich in these foods, it can still be difficult, especially for women and children, to consume adequate levels.
That is why the Ministry of Health and the Parliament are currently considering a program that will fortify basic staple foods like salt, cassava, sorghum, and wheat, with these vital micronutrients,” she explains.
“While food fortification may cost as little as 100 RWF per person per year, consider the impact. Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of mental retardation in the world and in less severe cases reduces acumen by about 15%,” says Binagwaho.
“While we work to build schools, train teachers, and create a new economy for Rwanda, we should also address this very simple way to improve the intellectual capacity of our people,” she continues.
In Rwanda iron deficiency is not only leading cause of death during child birth, but also impacts a person’s energy level leading to a 17% reduction in work capacity. Imagine a world where for 100 RWF our economic capacity can increase by this amount.
Binagwaho says that micronutrients also play a vital role in battling and preventing serious illnesses and diseases.
“Malnourished people have much higher rates of death when faced with maladies like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and diarrhoea – by as much as 25%. As well, even in cases where a patient survives the disease, the amount of hospitalization and therapy required increases significantly when their bodies do not have adequate levels of micronutrients as they fight to survive.”
She says that not only are these tragedies for the people and their families as they suffer through their illness, but such curative treatments unnecessarily drain resources from other essential projects such as preventative health, education, telecommunication and transportation infrastructure.
Binagwaho is however optimistic that food fortification is a well-accepted strategy for addressing this need. Fortification is common in the Americas, much of Europe, and already in some parts of Africa.
“Rwandan’s deserve the same health benefits enjoyed by the rest of the world. The parliament will be considering legislation that will allow the Ministry of Health to design and implement what may be one of the most important building blocks to Rwanda’s healthy future,” says Binagwaho.