The African Leaders for Nutrition Initiative (ALN), a joint African Union Commission and African Development Bank (AfDB) initiative, issued a recent report indicating that despite recent gains in addressing and lowering malnutrition on the African continent, many African nations are still facing increasing rates of childhood stunting and wasting, as well as overweight children.

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According to the report, unaddressed child malnutrition is “a direct threat to economic gains being made on the continent and has the potential to compromise the development and productivity of Africa’s future generations.” In response, the ALN created the Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard as a data driven advocacy tool to help highlight individual country as well as continental progress towards achieving continental and global nutrition targets.

The Scorecard was created in collaboration with the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a resource that African leaders can use to compare the state of nutrition between countries. It is designed to be continuously updated with new data and inputs, making it an important source of aggregated information for monitoring and evaluating Africa’s efforts to combat malnutrition and its effects.

A number indicators are used to provide a snapshot of Africa’s nutrition status, including the stunting of children under 5 years old, the prevalence of anaemia in women of reproductive age (15-49 years of age), and exclusive breast feeding among infants. These and other indicators are closely aligned with global development efforts, including the SDGs, the World Health Assembly targets, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (Malabo Declaration), and the African Regional Nutrition Strategy.

Key findings from the report are:

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  • Half of African countries have prevalent stunting rates of above 30%, while only 7 countries have rates below 19%, which is classified by the WHO as low.
  • Only 15 countries have prevalent childhood wasting rates below 5%.
  • 38 countries have rates of anaemia in women of reproductive age above 30.3%, higher than the global baseline.
  • 8 countries have surpassed the target of at least a 50% rate of exclusive breastfeeding, which is important for the healthy growth and development of infants
  • 20 countries have met the minimum 70% rate of vitamin A supplementation, which helps reduce childhood morbidity and mortality

Four recommendations are made:

  1. Increase budgetary allocations towards implementation of multisectoral nutrition plans, to address the conditions that produce malnutrition
  2. Support and enforce compliance with mandatory food fortification legislation especially for processed food to prevent anaemia, vitamin A and iodine deficiency, among other ailments
  3. Enact policies on social protection mechanisms to empower women and adolescent girls to embrace health-reinforcing behaviours during pregnancy and early childhood
  4. Spearhead country efforts to avail timely and quality data on nutrition to support measurements, accountability and learning in addressing malnutrition in Africa.

At the high-level launch event of the Scorecard at the side-lines of 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the AfDB, stated that the “greatest contributor to economic growth is not physical infrastructure but brainpower…it is often not recognized that stunting shrinks the size of the brain and therefore compromises the current and future economic growth of nations.”

His Majesty King Letsie III of the Kingdom of Lesotho, an African Union Champion for Nutrition, who was also in attendance, noted that the Scorecard “offers an opportunity to lay a solid foundation to aid African leaders to act strategically and deliberately in implementing policies and investing in nutrition programmes that tackle malnutrition in our respective countries.”

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