United Nations Food and Nutrition Council has said more than a third of Zimbabwe’s children aged below five are malnourished while 12 000 in the same age group die every year from malnutrition.
The survey findings released at the weekend illustrate worsening health and food situation in the southern African country. The Zimbabwe National Nutrition Survey was conducted in January 2010.
UNICEF Country Representative to Zimbabwe Peter Salama said at the launch that “The data emerging from the survey provides irrefutable evidence of the magnitude of the problem of malnutrition in Zimbabwe. These levels of malnutrition are unacceptably high.
“They represent not only a challenge to reaching our development goals but will also constrain economic growth” .
Acting director of the Food And Nutrition Council George Kembo said the high levels of malnutrition posed a serious health threat to children adding that it is now impossible for Zimbabwe to meet the Millennium Development Goals pertaining to food security and children’s mortality.
“The prevalence of chronic malnutrition is now 33,8 percent according to the World Health Organisation’s standards; that means one in every three children are chronically malnourished. This is high according to the global thresholds and . . . undoubtedly should be considered a significant public health threat,” Kembo said.
The survey also shows plummeting exclusive breastfeeding rates. However the low and stable rates of severe acute malnutrition that were found are a credit to both the food security programmes supported by the international community as well as the coping mechanisms of the Zimbabwean people.
Over a third of Zimbabwe’s children under the age of five are chronically malnourished and consequently stunted, with short height for age.
Child height for age is often a telling predictor of human potential, diminished immune response, reduced adult size, compromised intellectual ability, lower economic productivity and poorer reproductive outcomes.
While the overall prevalence of severe acute malnutrition remains relatively low across the country for children under five years, at 2.1 percent, the rates double among younger children between 6-18 months old, suggesting inherent problems in infant feeding practices, including access to right foods, the survey said.
Acute malnutrition can lead to death. These rates of severe acute malnutrition translate to over 15,000 severely malnourished children that are at a very high risk of dying in Zimbabwe.
The survey also showed extremely low and deteriorating trends in exclusive breastfeeding, recorded at 5.8 percent, and considered to be one of the key underlying factors for undernutrition.
Once a net food exporter Zimbabwe has faced food shortages since President Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme which was launched in 2000.
Agricultural output plummeted because the government failed to provide blacks resettled on former white farms with inputs and skills training to maintain production.