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Undernutrition costing the country’s economy billions, Study says

Undernutrition is costing the economy Sh373.9 billion, which represents a loss of 6.9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as at 2014.

A study dubbed “Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) – Kenya chapter, that touches directly on three sectors of the economy namely Health, Education and Labour productivity and using 2014 as a reference period,  further shows  that hunger is one of the root causes of malnutrition in Kenya as well as Africa with the negative impact on children under five years.

The report says that despite Kenya having made progress in reducing stunting in children from a high of 33 percent in 1994 to 26 percent in 2014, stunting rates are still high since it affects one in every four children under five years.

Speaking Thursday during the release of the report, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Amb.  Ukur Yatani said hunger is unacceptable and must be eradicated especially in Africa.

“In 2018, the number of people who were hungry globally stood at 821.6 million, which implies that one person in nine people, suffers from hunger. Approximately 31 percent of the World hungry people come from Africa,” he said.

In a speech read on his behalf by Albert Mwenda , the Director General, Budget, Fiscal and Economic Affairs during the release of the COHA report , the CS said under the health sector, the COHA report  results revealed that that out of  7.22 million children in Kenya in 2014, stunting, wasting and underweight stood at 26, 4, and 11 percent respectively.

The economic impact of child undernutrition on the health sector consequently stands at Sh18.6 billion, representing  0.3 percent of our GDP as at 2014.

Amb. Yatani further explained that on the effects of child nutrition on education sector ,stunted children  before the age of five (5) are more likely to under-perform in school and had 3.5 less grades attained in school compared to non-stunted children.

“Stunted children exhibited low progression in education system with only three out of ten learners enrolled in grade one progressing to form four . They had a higher risk of repeating grades at 6.7 percent as compared to non-stunted children at 2.8 percent.”

In addition,  the CS noted that 16.9 percent of stunted people of working age in Kenya completed school as compared to 62.2 percent of those who were never stunted with the  cost of repetition attributed to stunting   to the education sector  amounting  Sh3.2 billion, which represents 0.06 percent of the Goss Domestic Product.

On the effects of  children undernutrition on productivity, Amb. Yatani noted that out of a working age population of 31 million people in the country in 2014, the study shows that 21.9 million, an equivalent of 41.5 percent were stunted as children.

What this means , he explained  is  that those  engaged in manual labour  could not produce optimally when undertaking manual activities and because of this, losses estimated at Sh 96.7 billion an equivalent of 1.8 percent of GDP

“All these are reasons  Kenya has undertaken the COHA Study for empirical evidence that will go a long way in complimenting the government’s commitments in fighting hunger and related health challenges”,   Amb. Yatani said .

Based on the findings, the CS  said that COHA Kenya National Implementation Team  will strengthen the implementation of the nutrition component within the community health strategy,  disseminate and implement comprehensive school health and nutrition programmes and also integrate nutrition as targeting component in social protection programmes for the highly vulnerable populations.

Council of  Governors (CoG) representative , Transnzoia CEC Mary Nzomo said, the report will be useful for the national and county planning and budgeting process as well as offer important source of  data in the midterm review of the county integrated development plans and their implementation and Big Four agenda  of 100 percent food and nutrition security.

The bulk of the work in the implementation of the report is with the counties considering health and  agriculture ministries are devolved.

“ These statistics show a grim picture on the existing state of malnutrition and its impact on African state economies as they translate to low quality of life and reduced life expectancy” she said

National and county governments should internalise and  put adequate measures to ensure accelerated implementation of SDGs 1and 2.  It is the responsibility of both levels of government to develop mechanism that achieve this critical rights to the citizens “, Nzomo said

Mark Andrew Meassick Mission Director of USAID Kenya and East Africa said  there is need to ensure that  every child has the opportunity for proper nutrition as the basis for living a prosperous and happy life.

“USAID has been working  in the space for a long time with the government of Kenya and looking at this study where we are and where we have to go we realise if we keep on doing the same thing it is insanity.”

“We need to take a different approach to address this issue, it is not  just enough to talk. We need to ensure we put more resources into addressing nutrition and making sure no child is left behind and that out  goal should not be to  reduce nutrition from 28  to 14 percent  over the next five years or  between now and 2030, it should be to eliminate malnutrition in children “,  Mark said

In a speech read on behalf of President Uhuru by Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki, the President emphasized the need for all to work together and put in place a comprehensive mechanism to address challenges of child-undernutrition, scale up and diversify financing for good nutrition for a healthy and productive nation and embrace and strengthen existing public private partnership in the implementation of the policy recommendations from the study.

The COHA study estimates the social and economic impact of child undernutrition and provides evidence based analysis on cost of hunger geared towards implementing strategies that eradicate child undernutrition in the country.

By Wangari Ndirangu


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