Kenya has shown exceptional leadership in fighting malnutrition in children and women as compared to other countries on the continent.
According to the Global Nutrition Report, in 2015, Kenya was the only one of 54 African countries to hit all five of the World Health Assembly nutrition targets.
Further, the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014 indicates an overall improvement in children’s nutritional status. The proportion of stunted children declined from three out 10 in 1998 to two out of 10 in 2014. Underweight children also declined from 18 per cent to 11 per cent during the same period.
According to Lucy Kuria, a nutritionist based at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), these gains have been a result of a concerted effort by the ministries of health, education, agriculture and water, to ensure availability and accessibility of food, as well as sensitisation of mothers on the benefits of balanced diets and clean water.
However, counties such as West Pokot and Kitui, still have more stunted children than the national average, at 46 per cent. Kilifi (39 per cent), Mandera (36 per cent) and Bomet (36 per cent) also have high proportions of stunted children, compared to counties with the lowest proportions of stunting at 16 per cent or less in Nyeri, Garissa and Kiambu.
There has also been concern about malnutrition of girls and women of reproductive age, especially iron deficiency, which not only affects physical wellbeing and performance at school and work, but also affects foetal development during pregnancy. Worm-like parasites have been implicated in causing anaemia in pregnant women.
Therefore, deworming during pregnancy is a cost-effective intervention against intestinal worms that allows better absorption of nutrients and iron, thus reducing the prevalence of anaemia. The report further shows that iron supplementation during pregnancy protects the mother and foetus against anaemia, which is considered a major cause of perinatal and maternal mortality.
Anaemia also results in an increased risk of premature delivery and low birth weight. Nutritional deficiencies such as anaemia often become worse during pregnancy because of the additional nutrient demands associated with foetal growth.
Therefore, expectant mothers are advised to boost the iron levels in their bodies through supplementation, and controlling parasites and preventing malaria infection.
Nutrition International, a Canada-based organisation recently committed Sh700 million to fight anaemia among women and girls in Kenya by 2020. The money will be used to buy and distribute weekly iron and folic acid supplements to 810,000 adolescent girls in nine counties.