Despite the progress made so far by government in improving nutrition, there is the need to recognise that there are still significant numbers of Ghana’s population for whom progress had not been fast enough.
Ghana has a population of 27 million, of which according to the World Bank Group, 24.2 per cent live below the poverty line.
In some regions, rural areas and poor urban areas of the country, progress in the reduction of malnutrition, especially anaemia and stunting, has been slow and uneven.
As part of efforts to help government attain its vision of eliminating malnutrition in all forms, the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation’s Voice for Change (V4C) partnership programme was officially launched in Accra on August 25, 2016.
The V4C is an evidence based advocacy programme being implemented by the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation in partnership with the International Food and Policy Research Institute and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Dutch Ministry is funding the programme for the period 2016 to 2020 as part of its worldwide effort to reinforce space for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) worldwide.
The programme is focused on four thematic areas – Food and Nutrition Security, Renewable Energy and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).
It seeks to ensure increasing equity and access to sustainable, equitable and affordable Sanitation and Hygiene services and products.
It is being implemented in six countries including Ghana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Rwanda, Indonesia and Honduras.
The Food and Nutrition Security component is focusing on Sustainable Nutrition for All (SN4A) with emphasis on Gender and Nutrition Sensitive Value Chains and also on Post – Harvest losses and Food Safety.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Household food security is the application of this concept to the family level, with individuals within households as the focus of concern.
Food insecurity exists when people do not have adequate physical, social or economic access to food as defined above.
The impact of malnutrition on Africa’s socioeconomic development is very critical, since the vulnerable in society such as women and children, stand at a high risk.
“Investing in the most vulnerable members of our society – children under the age of two and their mothers – is a sure-fire way of turning fast economic growth into more meaningful growth, both economic and human,” said Guy Scott, the Vice President of Zambia, at the launch of a new Institute of Development Studies report in 2014 dubbed “Turning Rapid Growth into Meaningful Growth: Sustaining the Commitment to Nutrition in Zambia”.
According to the Ghana – Nutrition at a glance report by the World Bank, annually, Ghana loses over $177 million in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
It said scaling up core micro-nutrient interventions would cost about $10 million per year.
It said Ghana’s stunting rate is similar to some countries with lower per capita income such as The Gambia and Togo; yet it has a higher level of stunting than countries in other regions with similar income such as Kyrgystan and Nicaragua.
In July 2016, Ghana launched its National Nutrition Policy (NNP), which aims to increase the coverage of high-impact nutrition-specific interventions that ensure optimal nutrition of Ghanaians throughout their lifecycle, with special reference to maternal health and child survival.
It also has the objective of ensuring a high coverage of nutrition-sensitive interventions to address the underlying causes of malnutrition and to reposition nutrition as a priority multi-sectoral development issue in the country.
Following the NNP launch, there is the need for stakeholders in nutrition to lay emphasis on improving the nutritional status of women and children from pregnancy to two years of age or the first 1,000 days of life.
The African Union Commission’s (AUC) study report published in August, 2016 indicates that under nutrition is taking a huge toll on Ghana’s economy.
According to the report, Ghana is losing $2.6 billion (or 6.4 per cent of GDP) a year to the effects of child undernutrition.
The report dubbed: “The Cost of Hunger in Africa: the Social and Economic Impact of Child Undernutrition on Ghana’s Long-Term Development (COHA)” reveals that vast amounts are being lost through increased healthcare costs, additional burdens on the education system and lower productivity by its workforce.
The report said stunted growth occurs when children miss out on critical nutrients — including proteins, vitamins and minerals — while in the womb and in the first two years of life.
It said this was compounded by diseases and poor hygiene practices; and that people affected by stunting face lifelong consequences starting in childhood such as frequent illness, poor school performance, having to repeat classes or dropping out altogether, and low workplace productivity.
The AUC’s Head of Health, Nutrition and Population Division, Dr Margaret Agama Nyetei said the issue of nutrition was vital to the African Union’s vision and action plan for the next 50 years – Agenda 2063.
“At the African Union, we believe that the realisation of Agenda 2063 and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be possible without fully harnessing the potential of all sectors of the population and this includes our children,” she said.
Findings of the COHA report reveals that 37 per cent of the adult population in Ghana suffered from stunting as children.
It shows that 24 per cent of all child mortality cases in Ghana are associated with undernutrition.
The study said Ghana had made some progress in improving child nutrition over the past two decades, reducing chronic malnutrition or stunting from 23 to 19 per cent, however there remains a lot to be done.
According to the WFP, in the Northern Region, 30 per cent of children under the age of five are stunted or chronically malnourished, and this affects not only their growth but also their educational development and economic potential.
The WFP also notes that in the Upper East Region, nearly 30 per cent of people do not have adequate access to food, compared to a national average of five percent.
The prolonged dry season and increasingly erratic rainfall has made Northern Ghana’s chronic poverty and food insecurity widespread.
To address the issue of malnutrition and food security situation in Ghana, there is the need for a massive investment in nutrition because it will improve several key development outcomes.
The Health Nutrition in Ghana (February 2013) indicates that three in 10 women and eight in 10 children under five years of age in Ghana suffer from some form of undernutrition.
It noted that four in 10 between age (15-49) women in Ghana are anaemic and eight per cent of children in Ghana are also anaemic.
It said 19 per cent of Ghanaian children are stunted; five per cent are severely stunted; 11 per cent are underweight; two per cent severely underweight.
Causes of malnutrition in Ghana include cultural and religious beliefs, insufficient co-ordination of efforts across different sectors and insufficient investment by government.
The rest are lack of institutional frameworks, and also many donor-driven nutrition interventions fail to survive after donor support dries up.
Mr Jalil Zakariah, a Nutrition Consultant, speaking at a media workshop organised by SNV on the V4C Project in November, 2016, said inadequate human resources make implementation of interventions difficult, especially in remote and rural parts of the country.
He said others were the lack of broad stakeholder participation including a strong role for the private sector and weak linkages between the health and agriculture sectors, including food processing.
Mr Zakariah said investing in nutrition could improve several key development outcomes in Ghana; it would also result in early school enrolment; adding that 30,000 children’s lives could be saved by reducing the prevalence of underweight.
He said 25,000 children’s lives could be saved by reducing vitamin A deficiency.
On why the need for sustainable food for all, Mr Eric Banye, SNV Ghana Country Programme Coordinator, said more than 4,500 mothers’ lives could be saved by decreasing maternal anaemia.
He said by decreasing stunting alone, economic gains could exceed $504 million by 2020; and that undernutrition impairs children’s immune systems, which places them at much greater risk of illness and death.
Changes expected under the SNV V4C programme include increase positioning of advocacy issues on national policy agenda and proper coordination among government departments to support an enabling environment for nutrition.
Others are increased budgetary allocation to empower the structures for nutrition service delivery, more accountability from state actors and creating voice to community groups to lobby for better services in nutrition.
Looking forward, donors in the nutrition sector need to show patience in awaiting outcomes of nutrition programmes, as results cannot be clearly measured until a child’s second birthday.
Finally policymakers must be held accountable to their commitments to nutrition progress and harnessing the national momentum on nutrition to produce more effective programmes.
By Iddi Yire