ETHIOPIA: Strategy to focus on malnutrition

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ethiopia’s new national nutrition strategy will target children younger than two years of age because a significant number suffer chronic malnutrition, a senior official said.

"We must fight malnutrition," Addisu Legesse, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Rural and Agriculture Development, said at the launch of the strategy. "It hardly seems worth mentioning the reasons, since malnourished children are much more likely to contract repeated and serious infections."

According to the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey, 47 percent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition. "Malnutrition leads to higher child mortality and morbidity rates," Tewodros Adhanom, Minister of Health, said. "It decreases the chances that a child will go to school, and if they go to school, stay in school and perform well."

According to the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, under-five mortality rates in Ethiopia have declined to 123 out of every 1,000 live births, from peak levels in 1990 of 204. Yet with almost 400,000 children under five still dying from preventable causes each year, Ethiopia continues to have one of the highest

The strategy also focuses on other vulnerable people: pregnant and lactating women, persons living with HIV/AIDS, displaced people and those coping with acute food insecurity.

It identifies low dietary intake and recurrent infection as the immediate causes of high levels of malnutrition, and food insecurity, lack of appropriate care and unavailability of basic health service delivery as underlying causes.

The initiative will cost US$192 million over five years, of which the Ethiopian government has secured $96.4 million.

"The general goal of the national nutrition strategy is that all Ethiopians secure an optimum nutritional status, which is an essential requirement for a healthy and productive life," the health minister said.

According to the UN World Health Organization, a malnutrition prevalence of more than 40 percent constitutes a "very high burden" for a country – a fact emphasised by Ethiopian officials during the launch of the strategy.

"Beyond the individual human suffering, malnutrition imposes substantial economic costs on Ethiopia's economy," Addisu said.

Ethiopia has not had a coordinated nutrition strategy, despite several attempts to introduce one since the 1980s. According to a 2005 assessment by the International Food Policy Research Institute, lack of such a strategy had created challenges for both the country and its development partners.

"Without a strategy and without institutional child mortality rates in the world.

leadership to guide and coordinate efforts to address malnutrition, isolated, piecemeal efforts across various programmes resulted, and led to confusion among various development partners," the assessment said.

Source: IRIN