Sunday, 24 April 2011

MALNUTRITION: Uganda: loses roughly $310 million worth of productivity annually

Lominda Afedraru : 19 April 2011

If most Ugandans were to adopt good feeding habits especially targeting children and mothers by giving them food that is rich in nutrients, the country would save $310million about (Shs737.8 billion) annually.

It is estimated that Uganda loses roughly $310 million worth of productivity annually due to accumulated effects of stunting caused in children through low birth weight, Iodine deficiency disorders as well as Iron deficiency.
It is further estimated that 4% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost annually as a result of malnutrition.
These figures are revealed in a recently released report by Uganda National Academy of Science (UNAS) titled 'Mainstreaming Nutrition with Agriculture in Uganda; the role of Agriculture improving nutritional status of women and children.'
The report quotes Dr Elizabeth Madraa from the Ministry of Health as saying the extent to which malnutrition in the country affects productivity and the economy is a topic of concern and that the largest consequence of malnutrition affects labour.
The head of Nutrition and Home Economics at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Mr Alex Bambona, is quoted as saying that the annual data indications of the country amount to a loss worth $38 million of productivity as a result of Iron deficiency; that causes anemia although other sources cite a slightly lower figure of $34 million.
"Having a nutritionally comprised workforce means that agriculture is negatively affected much more so than other sectors of the economy. Professor Judith Kimiywa, chairperson of the department of food nutrition and diabetes at Kenyatta University in Kenya notes that in Kenya there is an emphasis not only on productivity but also on increasing the incomes of the people," read part of the report.
The Ministry of Agriculture therefore described its recent development strategy by improving productivity in the first programme of their strategy as well as making sure that food is not only available to improve nutrition but also to improve incomes of those in need through already existing programmes of NAADS and "bonabagagawale" programme (prosperity for all).The deputy chairperson of UNAS Professor Opio Epelu during the launch of the report said for the economy of the country to run well, issues of nutrition must be addressed first in order to have an able bodied workforce that will be able to generate ample productivity in all sectors of the economy.
"Failure to prevent under nutrition early in life exerts a high social and economic cost that cannot be recouped because of the irreversibility of early deficits and the unavoidable negative effects later in life," he said.
He argues that a malnourished infant can have lifelong deficits in physical growth and development and physical activity.
Such sufferings and loss of human potential translates into social and economic costs.
While quantifying malnutrition in the country, it is stated that Uganda experiences high stunting rate of 38% in children under the age of five.
The prevalence of stunting in children between 24 to 35 months is estimated to be 48% and the prevalence of malnutrition and food insecurity varies from region to region with Northern and Southwest regions being rated as the highest.
Similar to other indicators of poor nutrition, the prevalence of chronic energy deficiency of less than 18.5 kg also varies across the regions among pregnant women between 15 to 49 years. The highest prevalence is recorded among women in Northern and Eastern Uganda.
Since agriculture is a major contributor to Uganda's prosperity and accounts for one quarter of the GDP, it is therefore the best sector to be used for improving the nutrition deficiency in the country.
Mr Peter Milton Rukundo, a lecturer at Kyambogo University said the problem of liberalizing the economy has brought about negative impacts on our economy because institutions like cooperatives where farmers used to access markets and credits facilities to operationalize their activities were killed.
He said there is no clear incentive in place for the farmers like it is in the western world and so the issue of overcoming nutrient deficits in the country may be a problem.
He said to push the idea of fighting food nutrient deficiency amongst the Ugandan community; Uganda needs a food nutrient Act that can be used by policy makers and the entire community to solving this problem.
"We need a legal framework to address this problem because in 2003, the Ministry of Agriculture came up with a nice policy on food and nutrition but this policy cannot be utilized unless there is a law in place to operationalise it. The policy addresses issues of sensitizing people to adapt to quality products including the food they eat. You know without this law we shall not catch up with global economic factors that affect us. For instance when the issue of liberalization and privatization was brought here, the World Bank came up with issues of debt reliefs which is not accessible to rural people...," Mr Rukondo said.

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