By PETER ORENGO
The United Nations plans to scale up nutrition to fight child stunting in Kenya.
Already the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) have agreed to work together to reduce levels of child stunting in the Eastern Africa region and accelerate progress toward achieving UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Unicef Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Director Elhadj As Sy and WFP Southern, Eastern and Central Africa Regional Director Mustapha Darboe signed the agreement in South Africa, setting the twin goals as joint priorities.
Darboe, however, noted considerable progress has already been made to address nutritional factors that compromise young children’s health.
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"We’re working together to address the scourge of child stunting caused by nutritional deprivation between birth and the age of two years. It’s shocking to note that there are twice as many stunted children in the region as the number of underweight children," said Darboe.
Stunting (low height for age) indicates nutritional deprivation early in life – from conception up to two years of age. Unlike underweight, which is a composite of both stunting and wasting (low weight for height), stunting past the age of two is irreversible, and has long-term debilitating effects. Children who are stunted are at greater risk of illness and death. It is estimated that countries lose over three per cent of their GDP through the effects of under-nutrition.
According to the latest data from Unicef, the prevalence of stunting in the developing world has declined from 40 per cent to 29 per cent between 1990 and 2008, but the progress has been stagnant in Africa. Over the same period, stunting in Africa has only been reduced from 38 per cent to 34 per cent. Of the 24 countries that account for 80 per cent of the world’s stunting burden, seven are in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.
Only 11 African countries are on track to reaching the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015.