A study among women attending routine ante-natal clinic across three hospitals in Nairobi found their iron, zinc, and vitamin D levels wanting.
A survey conducted among pregnant women in Nairobi has concluded that micronutrient deficiency is a major public health problem in Kenya.
Conducted by a team of 12 researchers in Kenya, led by Dr. Echoka Elizabeth of Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), the study involved 410 women drawn from three hospitals within Nairobi: Aga Khan University Hospital, St Mary’s hospital and Mama Lucy hospital.
Subjects in the study, pregnant mothers in their second trimesters, underwent biochemical assessments to determine levels of iron, zinc, retinol binding protein (RBP), C-reactive protein, alpha-1-acid glycoprotein and vitamin D.
The team found that 19 per cent of the women had anemia, characterized by low hemoglobin levels while approximately 36.1 per cent had iron deficiency.
Many of the subjects showed commendable levels of vitamin A, with only one per cent showing deficiency. However, 11.7 per cent had marginal deficiency.
Fifty three per cent had vitamin D deficiency with 34 per cent having marginal deficiency. World Health Organization (WHO) however recommends zero supplementation of Vitamin D during pregnancy – to prevent development of pre-eclampsia.
The findings were compiled in a report titled: “Status of Iron, Zinc, Vitamins A and D, Nutrition Knowledge and Dietary Practices among Pregnant Women in Nairobi, Kenya”.
Speaking during launch of the report held last month, Dr. Elachi said her team also discovered that for every five pregnant women, one suffers from multiple nutrient deficiencies.
“Studies that address nutritional needs of women during pregnancy have not received adequate attention. This study aims at assessing maternal nutrition status among women attending routine ante-natal clinic,” she said.
To assess maternal nutrition knowledge, Dr. Elachi’s team asked pregnant women to identify the three main food groups and name at least three food items in each food group.
A score of one was assigned to each correct response on identified food group and also for each correctly named specific food items giving a maximum possible score of 12.
A good section of the participants, 65 per cent, had knowledge of three food groups. However, more than half could not correctly identify three energy food sources and notably only 14.1 per cent correctly identified vitamin food sources.
“These results support the need to include nutrition education in health campaigns targeting pregnant women,” added Dr. Elachi. “But we also realised a trend where women find out they are pregnant after months. They therefore miss out important nutrition which is critical for the health of the baby.”
The researchers discovered that traditional green leafy vegetables were generally poorly consumed. Ninety and 83.9 per cent indicated that they have never consumed Nderema and Mrenda respectively.
The team found that the commonly consumed carbohydrate foods were sifted maize flour, rice and millet.
Many of the respondents also consumed a lot of vegetable protein while beef was the most consumed source of animal protein in the meats category. Among vegetables, sukuma wiki and spinach were the most consumed.
The team concluded that the population assessed generally showed poor dietary diversity, and hence the deficiencies reported.
“Well-nourished mothers give birth to healthy children. We emphasize on proper nutrition for the baby in its first 1,000 days of existence.
Damages that occur during this time - if nutrition is not being followed well - are irreversible. For instance, lack of folic acid at certain points during pregnancy causes neural tube defects like spina bifida, a lifelong condition,” said Gladys Mugambi, head of nutrition at the Ministry of Health, during the report’s launch.