33.2% of children suffer from stunted growth

33.2% of children suffer from stunted growth

Rose Moremoholo

MASERU – AT least 33.2 percent of all children under the age of five in Lesotho suffer from stunted growth, according to a World Bank report released last week.

The report says Lesotho’s rate of stunting for children aged five and below is higher than its lower income peers like Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Sao Tome, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The Kick-off and Validation of Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) study says there is a bigger price to pay for undernutrition than it is anticipated.

Margaret Agama-Anyetei, the African Union head of division for health, nutrition and population said Lesotho and other African countries have the potential to reap a demographic dividend from a young, educated and skilled work-force.

“But this potential can only be harnessed if the gains of early investments in the health and nutrition of its people, particularly its women and children, are maintained and result in the desired economic growth,” Anyetei said.

The COHA study was sanctioned by the African Union Commission (AUC) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA), supported by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as well as the UN World Food Programme.

The study is implemented in multiple countries across the continent and aims at estimating the economic and social impact of child under-nutrition in Africa.

The preliminary results of the study have demonstrated the magnitude and devastating social and economic consequences of child malnutrition in Lesotho.

“In fact, the preliminary results show that the country is losing M1.9 billion per year which is equivalent to approximately 7 percent of the country’s GDP in 2014,” Thomas Yanga, the Director of Africa Office and Representation to the African Union and UNECA, said.

Yanga said these results are not only an evidence based revelation but a call for action for all, especially policy makers.

“The expected economic development and growth results will only be achieved when all children in this country are free from hunger and malnutrition as well as have the opportunity to have access to adequate education and better health care,” Yanga said.

“We cannot change the past but we can jointly shape the future of the young Basotho girls and boys.”

Yanga added that while Lesotho managed to reduce the rate of stunting from 53 percent to 33.2 percent, the figure was still too high revealing that chronic food insecurity and malnutrition are still prevailing in the country.

“Hunger has a negative effect on the national economy. The impacts of under-nutrition are intertwined, impeding national performance in terms of health, education and productivity objectives,” Yanga said.

The team delegated to run the study has completed the collection and analysis of data and the report will be published on October 27.

Kimetso Mathaba, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said Lesotho took part in the study due to the prevailing problems of malnutrition in the country.

“The rate of malnutrition has not been improving significantly from 1992 up to date. Stunting is the main problem in Lesotho which currently stands at 33.2 percent and which according to the WHO (World Health Organisation) standards indicates chronic malnutrition,” Mathaba said.

“There is evidence that addressing malnutrition is a basic foundation for the social and economic development of any country,” he said.

Cosmos Mokone, the Head of National Implementation Team (NIT), said under-nutrition is estimated to contribute to 2.8 percent as a risk to education.

“Out of 100 students, 2.8 percent of them will fail or drop out of school because of under-nutrition or stunting,” Mokone said.

However, Mokone said there is no immediate cost for those that drop out to the government but those that repeat a class put more costs on the government.

“The highest cost of under-nutrition is in the labour market because the performance of under-nutrition people is very low and therefore costing the country a lot of money for low production both in skilled and unskilled related production,” Mokone said.

A child that is stunted is at risk of performing less in class or even drop out to an extent that when they join the labour market they become unproductive in the economy.

Lesotho has lost 7.2 percent of working age population for 2014, Mokone said.

The study shows that a child who is suffering from under-nutrition is at risk of suffering from cognitive and physical impairment which impacts the quality of life as a child and as an adult within the society.

The study shows that in humans the first two years of life is a critical period of vulnerability for the brain’s development and under-nutrition early in life causes changes in the brain cells and development thus reducing the connectivity and branching of brain cells.

“Children who are stunted have increased probability of repeating a class,” Mokone said.

In a population of 47 547 students who had to repeat class recorded in 2014, 17 044 of the total number of repeaters were associated with stunting which cost the government at least M115 million.

Mamane Salissou, a member of the NIT, said under-nutrition causes 19.5 percent of all children’s deaths, where 9 272 deaths were experienced from the year 2008 to 2014.

“For every additional case of child illness, both the family and health sector are faced with additional cost,” Salissou.

At least 88 900 children are stunted in a total of 100 000 children.

“A lot of work still needs to be done,” Salissou said.

The study also showed that 51 percent cost in health associated to under-nutrition happened on children before turning 24 months.

It further says 939 842 of working adults were stunted as children.

The study says the health sector uses at least M4.2 million while the education sector spends at least M11.7 million on stunted people and the labour sector loses almost M180 million in productivity costs.

“You can imagine how we can use that money in investment as a country if we prevented stunting in the first place,” Tiisetso Elias, the coordinator of NIT, said.

Elias said if the country can work hard to reduce stunting by 50 percent then the country would have saved M1.8 billion by 2025.

“We have to focus on prevention particularly in children during the early years of under five which will yield social and economic return,” Elias said.

He further said Lesotho youth are being disproportionally affected by the consequences of malnutrition but it is also a group that will gain the most from improved nutrition.

“Better nutrition will impact health, education and labour productivity so we need sustained investment in nutrition,” Elias said.

Eliminating stunting in Lesotho is not an option it is a necessary step for inclusive development in the country, he said.

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