Nakuru County Government has put into action a plan to revise nutritional programmes and policies to bolster the health and wellbeing of the population through implementation of Sh 2.55 billion County Nutrition Action Plan (CNAP).
Chief Officer in charge of Public Health Alice Abuki said CNAP which was developed with financial and technical support from Nutrition International, county administration and nutrition stakeholders was guiding the devolved unit in scaling-up of nutrition interventions over the next five years.
Ms Abuki said the County government had introduced nutritional community-based management, supplementation feeding programmes for pregnant women and capacity building of healthcare workers to offer nutrition services in all health facilities.
While acknowledging that malnutrition had both health and economic consequences and undermines basic human rights, the chief officer said they were targeting to reduce malnutrition by 60 percent and 58 percent in children under five and expectant women respectively in the next five years as outlined in the County 2020-2025 CNAP.
Other interventions by the county towards addressing malnutrition are provision of affordable healthcare services and medical and nutrition commodities and supplies to hospitals, added Ms Abuka.
“Iimproved nutrition is expected to contribute to economic productivity and development and reduce poverty”, said the Chief Officer.
The chief officer revealed that the county government was also supporting various programs aimed at ensuring that the target population was nutritionally safe and that there was enough of nutrition-rich food, which was affordable and accessible to the low-income consumers and that there was productivity and respect for biodiversity and ecosystems.
Speaking during a meeting between members of the Nutrition Programme Steering Committee and officials of Nutrition International (NI) at the County headquarters, the Chief Officer stated that to ensure sustainability in the interventions, plans were underway to strengthen the County’s partnerships with Nutrition International beyond the stated financing period.
According to the official, while people have been emphasising more on the need to eat a well-balanced diet, they have ignored important dietary aspects like minerals and trace elements which include traces like zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium among others.
“Good nutrition is vital for all people especially vulnerable groups including children, lactating mothers, the aged and the sick. There is need to look at food from not only an aspect of food security, but also nutritional security,” observed Abuka.
Most people, she added, depend on certain types of food because of culture and availability, while they fail to consider the nutritional value of what they consume.
While noting that climate change, poverty and lack of innovation were some of the top challenges to food and nutritional security, Ms Abuka urged stakeholders to work with research organisations and academic institutions to address food insecurity and malnutrition adding that earlier research had revealed a direct link between nutrients-deprived soils and malnutrition.
The CNAP programme has incorporated the priorities of the Nakuru County Integrated Development Plan 2018-2022 and the County Health Sector Strategic and Investment Plan 2018-2022. It lays out actions for resource mobilization, and coordination and implementation of nutrition interventions with health and other key sectors. The plan has clearly defined targets and includes monitoring and accountability frameworks.
Nutrition International supported the development of the CNAP through its Nutrition Technical Assistance Mechanism’s Technical Assistance for Nutrition project, funded with UK aid from the United Kingdom government. Other partners who offered technical support include the Ministry of Health’s Nutrition and Dietetics Unit, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Afya Uzazi and Egerton University.
The Nutrition International Kenya Country Director Martha Nyagaya regretted that one out of every three people in the world is malnourished with adolescent girls and women being the most vulnerable due to biological and sociological aspects.
The solution to under nutrition, the Director said, lies at low-cost intervention mechanisms which needed to be scaled up by actively involving individuals, families and the communities.
Nutrition International, she said, had been working in Sub Saharan Africa in the past 25 years fighting malnutrition. In Kenya, it is working in 16 counties in reducing the cases including Nandi, Makueni, Vihiga and Busia.
According to statistics from the devolved unit’s Department of Health, of the 275,921 children under five living in the county, an estimated 27.9 percent are stunted way above the national level of 26%, a further 5 percent are wasted while 10.2% are underweight.
According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014), 75,439 children in Nakuru County were stunted while malnutrition causes an estimated 17,033 cases of low birth weight and underweight annually within the devolved unit.
The interventions outlined in CNAP are projected to result in 1,473 child deaths averted, 22,453 cases of anaemia prevented in pregnant women and 4,666 cases of anaemia avoided in adolescent girls. Over the period, prevalence of stunting is expected to come down by approximately 38 percent while cases of iron deficiency anaemia in pregnant women to drop by 58 percent.
Official records from County Department of health indicate that malnutrition costs the health system an estimated Sh175.6 million per year, and that the menace had reduced education performance of learners with Nakuru recording an average annual 333 cases of class repetitions and drop outs due to stunting.
Absenteeism occasioned by stunting in the devolved unit according to the records was costing the education sector and affected families Shs 4.07 million annually.
By Esther Mwangi