By Pawlos Belete
In Capital Newspaper, Tuesday, 22 November 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
A balanced diet for children under the age of two can increase Ethiopia’s Gross National Product by three percentage points and the country should address malnutrition from the day a child comes into the world, according to a senior nutrition advisor at the Ministry of Health (MoH).
Alive and Thrive (A & T) initiative, a five year project financed by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Vietnam in a bid to improve infant feeding practices, was launched recently. The organization is utilizing media, communication and training materials to reduce malnutrition problems in Ethiopian infants.
“Globally, food and nutrition security is getting increased attention. Good nutrition between pregnancy and age two (during the first 1,000 days) contributes to good health, better educational achievement and future income earning potential. Investment in nutrition is vital for achieving many MDGs including: eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, empowering women, and achieving primary education,” said Frew Lema, Senior Nutrition Advisor at MoH.
The government of Ethiopia has introduced various national policies and programs to curb the problem of malnutrition. In terms of program implementation, for instance, 11 million children under five years old received vitamin A supplements and de-worming in the past, Community Based Nutrition scaled up to 300 Woredas; Community Managed Acute Malnutrition has been decentralized to more than 8,000 sites; and salt iodization has been legalized.
The progress Ethiopia has made so far is very promising especially in reducing underweight babies by 10 percent and overly thin infants by eight percent. There has been a dramatic reduction of the mortality rate for children under five; from 123 to 88 per 1,000 living babies from 2005 to 2010, according to the nutrition advisor.
“These achievements will not slow our efforts, rather it encourages us to further scale up our interventions,” he added.
A&T aims to reach 16 million children under the age of two in its five year program. It also plans to increase the number of exclusively breastfed infants under the age of six by 1.5 million. This could save more than 300,000 lives and protect an additional 700,000 children from stunted growth, according to nutrition experts.
“To really invest in human capital we must insist on proper child nutrition from day, otherwise malnutrition and stunted growth will remain a vicious circle that will deter the long term development of any nation,” argued Teweldebran Hailu, Senior Country Director, A&T Ethiopia office.
Ethiopia is home to about six million stunted children under the age of two, due to malnutrition. Almost 44 percent of Ethiopia’s children under the age of five are stunted.
According to information obtained from the project office of Alive and Thrive, it is a 70 million dollar five year project currently in its third year of operation. It has been implemented in four regions of Ethiopia including Amhara, Oromiya, Southern Nations Nationality and Peoples, and Tigray.