Malnutrition and child stunting in Ghana; Economic Impact on National Purse

A GNA Feature
by Fatima Anafu- Astanga

Bolgatanga, Sept. 14, GNA – The window of
opportunity that awaits growing children into adulthood and the expectations of
a nation of them is threatened with the increasing spate and concerns of
Malnutrition and stunting in children.

Half of the world Population according to Food
and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and WHO is malnourished.

In Ghana, one -quarter of the population or 28
percent of all children under five are stunted-that is, too short for their
age, reflecting a failure of stunted children to receive adequate food intake
over a long period of time, and 
therefore depict chronic malnutrition. Ghana Trade and Livelihoods GTLC
report 2017.

This alarming scenario of the silent hunger
threat should not give Ghana any peace and excitement   in the journey to achieving the targets of
the SDGs, because for many of such children, the window of opportunity of
future employment will elude them, they will remain poor because of lack of
productive activities.

THE
STATTLING SCENARIO

In 2014, the Ghana Demographic and Health
(DHS) Survey recorded that 18.8 per cent of children under five were stunted.
The scenario over the years indicated non-uniformity in regions of the country.

For the last eight years stunting rates keep
dwindling and in Upper East Region and the Central Regions have become
priorities in child stunting.

Even though some of the regions are supposed
to be food baskets of the country, children wallow with nutrition challenges.
In the Upper East Region, stunting in 2011 was 22 per cent and these figures
keep dwindling.

In the Northern Region, the stunting rate is
33 per cent and in the Upper East Region from 2008 to 2014, the stunting rate
is 42 per cent above the national rate of 19per cent.

 ECONOMIC IMPACT

Cost of hunger in Ghana indicates that the
country already spend heavily annually on people with nutrition problems
including; their health care costs, educational burdens and low productivity of
their workforce. 

According to a report, childhood malnutrition
reduces an individual’s future earnings by at least 20 per cent and robs some
of the world’s poorest countries of at least eight per cent of GDP. Meanwhile a
study in Ghana shows that an amount of GHC4.6 billion is spent yearly
extrapolating to 6.4 per cent of the country’s GDP on child under nutrition.

Meanwhile The GSDA 11 financial costing
requirement for implementation on nutrition strategies between 2014 and 2017
GHC4.367 million while Health estimated costs was pegged at GHC6.868.008.

This is an indication that more money will
continue to go after health of people and building of structures.

However, when efforts were made to address
challenges of nutrition and families live well, heavy expenditure spent
annually on health of people especially malnourished children will reduce and
the resources channelled into other important areas of the economy.

Mr Joshua Bayellebarea Nutrition Officer who
spoke with the Ghana News Agency at the Tongo Health Directorate in the Upper
East Region indicated that a stunted child was slow in learning and because
they lacked the needed four star diet for requisite nutrients and so their
condition can affect the growth of the child into adulthood and therefore a
stunted child, will remain a stunted adult.

He said stunted children have greater chances
of chronic illnesses, and the rippling effects on their families could widen
their poverty levels, and the burden on providing services for them will
continue to have greater impact on the country’s purse.

Mr Bayellebare said failure of a child to grow
weight normally, during its critical growth stages, stand risk of compromised
physical and cognitive development and increased risk of developing
non-communicable diseases later in life, as well as decreased IQ and poor
school performance resulting in lower life-time earnings because they drop out
of school early in life.

IMPACT
OF STUNTING

Families especially mothers with children
suffering from stunting will have to spend more time at home tending to a child
in their condition than work which is an avenue for income for her and the
disadvantages of having reduced earnings means inability to buy adequate food
supplies for the home where problems of health in communities are mostly
related to nutrition.

Government expenditure on subsidising for the
National Health Insurance, medicines will increase if special attention is not
given to nutrition issues and this will culminate into prevalence of deaths and
under nutrition. This underscores an urgent need to invest resources and ensure
continued political will to eliminate malnutrition in Ghana.

Financial burden of malnutrition and cost
analysis on stunted children when properly done expose the impact on GDPs of
every nation.

The contribution  of a child when not stunted are many and this
is what the country should be interested in and invest its resources into
interventions that provide mothers and children to have sustainable services to
address nutrition and child survival.

IMPORTANCE
OF NUTRITION

Nutrition is pivotal to life and growth and at
no time is it more important than during the first 1000 days of life and
therefore suboptimal nutrition during this window of opportunity deprives every
child from reaching its full potential life.

In addition, malnutrition during
childhood  have an effect on generations
to come because malnourished adolescent girls who have a sub-optimal nutrition
status during pregnancy generate into low birthweight babies, who in turn
experience same situation of 
malnutrition during their childhood.

For lots of food eaten by children in many
households in Ghana contain high starch, but the issue of how much food a child
eats should highly be based on recommended amount of energy needed daily.

In addition to stunting, many children suffer
from being too thin and more recently some are becoming overweight, which is
also a sign of malnutrition.

 Every
other pregnant woman and every other child in Ghana experiences unacceptable
levels of iron deficiency anaemia, iodine deficiency and/or Vitamin A
deficiency.

THE
NATIONAL NUTRITION POLICY

The aim of the National Nutrition Policy is to
ensure optimal nutrition and health of all persons living in Ghana and to
enhance capacity for sustainable economic growth and development.

Though efforts at reaching this goal is
on-going there, is more to do. This is because lack of coordination and poor
institutional structures are militating against successful interventions the
policy strives for.

For instance activities of the Ministry of
Agriculture running and its interventions run separately from the Ghana Health
Service.

The District and Municipal Assemblies stand to
gain a lot when children are not stunted and nutrition in communities is
proving on the health facilities. To a greater extent the onus lies on aligning
nutrition programmes into the Medium Term Plans in tandem with the National
Nutrition Policy.

It for this reason that SNV, a Dutch NGO has
called for intensification of government commitment to issues of nutrition to
be well addressed.

To this end, SNV is working and building
capacities of Civil Societies to engage decision makers under the Voice for
Change (V4C) programme.

The Objective of the V4C advocacy programme is
to enhance government and private sector accountability, ensure that promises
and actions are fulfilled and also to enable CSOs to have greater voice and be
able to lobby and effectively serve the interests of people they represent.

CONCLUSION

To this end, the realignment of Medium Term
Plans of Assemblies to the Nutrition Policy should be of interest to government
so that right financial resources are made to address nutrition interventions.

It is also recommended that the interventions
should also help communities and families to grow fortified crops and provide
the best nutrition for women in their reproductive age, infants and young
children.

GNA

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