EDITORIAL: MORE EDUCATION NEEDED TO CURB CHILD STUNTING

Monday October 11 2021

Tanzania’s economy has been growing at a breathtaking pace in the last two decades or so. The country was proclaimed as a lower-middle income economy effective from July 2020 by the World Bank.

But, for some reason or another, child stunting remains to be a seemingly endless challenge for the country in particular and Africa in general.

Generally speaking, stunting is when a child has a low height for its age, usually due to malnutrition, repeated infections, and “poor social stimulation”.

Children are defined as “stunted” if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards which were developed using data collected in the WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study.

More often than not, child stunting indicates that the community involved has been experiencing chronic undernutrition and inadequate nutrients for a prolonged period that begins in the prospective mother’s womb.

Also known simply as “chronic undernutrition”, stunting is one of the major public health concerns that a significant number of children are suffering from moderate-to-severe forms of malnutrition.

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But, perhaps interestingly enough, the problem is more prominent in countries that are underdeveloped, or least-development, and which are usually characterised by widespread chronic poverty and less economic development than most nations in the so-called First World.

Going by the 2018 Global Nutrition Report of the United Nations, some 150.8 million (22.2 percent) children under five years of age were stunted worldwide in 2017 – 58.7 million of them in Africa alone: 39 percent of stunted under-five children globally.


Highest mortality rate

Indeed, the sub-Saharan Africa region had the highest under-five mortality rate in the world in 2017: 76 deaths per 1,000 live births – with 34 percent of the deaths resulting from prevalent stunting.

Again according to the World Bank, about 44 percent of children in Tanzania are stunted to one degree or another. This is mostly from lack of adequate nutrition from the time they are still in their mother’s womb and during the first one thousand days after they are born.

If nothing else, this means that mothers play – or should play – a pivotal role in ensuring proper, healthy growth of their children even before they are born to this, our, world.

It is, therefore, safe to conclude that the main reason why many Tanzanian children are stunted is not entirely for lack of food and other forms of nutrition. It is basically for lack of adequate knowledge on the part of parents and other care givers on how best to bring up children nutrition-wise from the embryo stage onwards.

Furthermore, many lactating mothers are also engaged in smallholder farming and other productive activities to ensure survival of their families – thus virtually relegating healthy child upbringing to the backburner and stunting.

But, it must also be said that the rate of child stunting has been decreasing in recent years. This is thanks to government efforts to curb malnutrition in expectant mothers and their babies, partly through intensified, appropriate public education on balanced dieting by nutrition and health-extension workers.

Honestly, let us keep that up.