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Counties asked to enforce fortification standards

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) is working with five selected counties to build the capacity of their public health officers in enforcing fortification standards.

Ruth Okowa, GAIN Kenya Country Director says the public health officers in Kiambu, Mombasa, Nyandarua, Nakuru and Nairobi Counties were expected to play a pivotal role in the allocation of resources to forestall compliance standards on food safety and fortification.

Okowa who made the remarks recently during the 3rd Kenya National Food Fortification Summit noted that enforcing fortification standards will address the challenge of micronutrient deficiency amongst the Kenyan population.

“We are working closely with the National and County governments to heighten fortification surveillance in line with the mandatory food fortification requirement”, she said.

The Food Fortification Strategy also captures a raft of interventions necessary to address the challenge of micronutrient deficiency amongst the Kenyan population.

She spoke on the need to focus on decentralization and accelerate actions to extend food fortification commitments to the County level.

“It is essential to address the low consumption patterns of fortified foods and reap the subsequent health benefits. There is a need to support the Public Health Officers (PHOs) and the industry players to routinely enter data into the food fortification database. This will enhance data visualization and inform decision making,” she said.

Last year, Kiambu County led with about 30 percent of samples found to be contaminated while the overall compliance with Food Fortification standards was at just 28 percent thus painting a grim picture.

Apart from working with Counties, GAIN is also supporting the 5 County governments to put in place food safety and fortification policies and Bills for purposes of enhancing surveillance and ring-fencing resources for fortification.

Okowa said industrial food fortification is a critical pathway to address hidden hunger. Micronutrient deficiency constitutes a significant form of malnutrition, which not only impacts the health of individuals but also hampers a country’s economic growth.

“Micronutrient deficiency is especially prevalent among Kenya’s women and children, manifested in deficiencies of crucial nutrients such as iron, folate, zinc, iodine, and vitamin A,” Okowa said.

“It is incumbent upon each of us to take urgent action to fortify pathways and address the high prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies among women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and children under five in Kenya”, she added.

The Country Director however noted that this will necessitate sustainable multisectoral approaches, encompassing public health surveillance and community awareness on food safety and fortification.

The summit was being held under the theme, ‘Celebrating a Decade of Food Fortification in Kenya: Shaping the Future through Innovation and Partnerships’.

During the meeting, Deputy Head of Division of Nutrition and Dietetics at the Ministry of Health, Leila Odhiambo said that food fortification can be carried out by food manufacturers, or by governments as a public health policy which aims to reduce the number of people with dietary deficiencies within a population level.

“Food fortification is the process of adding micronutrients to food. We have chosen four food vehicles for fortification and this includes salt where iodine is added, wheat and maize flour which has seven vitamins and nine minerals, and vitamin A in fats and oils,” Odhiambo said.

She emphasized that food fortification is mandatory and that there is a regulation under Cap 254 of the Constitution of Kenya, this is an Act of Parliament under food fortification.

The Government, she added is also working with industries to ensure that the staple food is fortified to help the population in the medium term, access micro nutrients.

“We are scaling interventions that will enable the population to eat healthier food and contribute to reducing the disease burden and its implication to the economy of the country,” Odhiambo said.

The Kenya National Micronutrient Survey of 2011 depicted the country as burdened by high micronutrient deficiencies with the most prevalent being zinc, vitamin A, iron, and iodine deficiencies.

Zinc deficiency prevalence rates stood at 70 percent, with preschool children being most affected at 81.6 percent, school-age children at 79.0 percent, pregnant women at 67.9 percent, and non-pregnant women at 79.9 percent.

Kiambu, Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru have developed draft policies on not just food fortification but also linking it up with the food systems issues. The first-generation fortification strategy came to an end in 2022.

Charles Opiyo, Head of policy and Advocacy at GAIN while speaking to KNA called upon all industry players including County and National governments involved in the food nutrition space to work together through the national food fortification alliance or even the County alliances by looking at the progress made in terms of surveillance levels to be able to move in the right direction

“We are calling for everyone, all the way from non-stakeholders to governments to everybody else, including the consumers who must be empowered to be able to ask and demand that they are able to access fortified foods so that at least we can also see improvement in our health outcomes”, Opiyo said.

The Kenya constitution recognizes food and good nutrition as a basic right in article 53 (1)(c) and article 43 (1) (d) recognizes the importance of addressing hunger and malnutrition.

Last year in November, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology launched a national food fortification reference laboratory, equipped with modern tools for analysis to aid government’s efforts to reduce malnutrition among vulnerable groups through addition of essential micronutrients in widely consumed staple foods such as maize and wheat flour, edible oils and salt.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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