19 May 2012

Tanzania: Scientific Study Projects 450,000 More Stunted Children by 2020

SCIENTIFIC projections from a recent report published by the Save the Children show that by 2020, Tanzania will have an additional 450,000 stunted children.

Research by Save the Children suggests that, if the current trends continue, an extra 11.7 million children will be stunted in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2025 compared to 2010, meaning that 450 million children globally will be affected by stunting in the next 15 years.

The report entitled 'A life free of hunger' that was released a fortnight ago said that the crisis of malnutrition isn't new but that the progress of reducing it has been pitifully slow for the past 20 years. Stunting is a result of a child having a poor diet (chronic malnutrition) - too few calories or too little nutritious food or both - for a number of years, or an infection leading to mal-absorption of nutrients.

"A combination of global trends - climate change, volatile food prices, economic uncertainty and demographic shifts - is putting future progress on tackling malnutrition at risk," the report reads in part. The nutritional status of young children is a comprehensive index that reflects the level and pace of household, community, and national development.

Malnutrition is a direct result of insufficient food intake or repeated infectious diseases or a combination of both. Children who are stunted are considered too short for their age. Current statistics show that 42 per cent of children in Tanzania are stunted. Children who are wasted are too thin for their height.

Five per cent of children are wasted. Children who are underweight are too short for their height. Sixteen per cent of children are underweight. Statistics from the report show that around 80 per cent of stunted children live in just 20 countries, with more than a third of the children in Asia being stunted, which accounts for almost 100 million of them in total globally.

In the 20 countries where around 80 per cent of the world's stunted children live, children from better-off families face a lower risk of stunting. The report points out, however, that rates of stunting are high across all wealth groups, from richest to poorest, which suggests that increased wealth is not enough to prevent stunting.

The trend is slightly different in low-income countries, such as Liberia and Tanzania, from lower-middle income countries, such as India and Nigeria. According to statistics issued recently at a nutrition and HIV/AIDS workshop, acute malnutrition in the country shows that 276,938 children have Moderate Acute Malnutrition, 93,000 children have Severe Acute Malnutrition and those who fall under the Globally Acute Malnutrition bracket amount to 369,938 as of 2010.

"Data from 2005 onwards shows that in some low-income countries, such as Liberia, Mali and Tanzania, there is very little variation in stunting rates in the poorest three groups - or the poorest 60 per cent of the population - within the same country, showing that stunting affects huge proportions of children.

"This suggests that in the poorest countries universal interventions to reduce stunting may be appropriate, as the problem affects the majority of the population," the report read. Comparisons between Save the Children surveys carried out in 2010 in Tanzania as the World Health Organisation standard shows that the average height of a girl aged two and half is 84.7cm as compared the 90.7cm standard and for boys it's 86.1cm as compared to the 91.9cm standard.

The report said that action must be taken now to prevent the crisis deteriorating and more children suffering the life-long consequences. It cited that by mid 2013, it would already be too late to make a difference to the last generation of children, who would reach their second birthday - a crucial nutrition milestone - by 2015.

The report, however, confirmed that there had been significant progress that had been made in saving children's lives where the number of children not making it to their fifth birthday had fallen from 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2011. "Momentum is building - in 2011 world leaders made critical progress on immunisation by pledging to vaccinate 250 million children by 2015, saving 4 million lives and 40 countries committed to filling the 3.5 million health workers' gap," the report cited.

The report cited that malnutrition was a silent killer - under-reported, under-addressed and as a result, under-prioritised and the malnutrition related deaths were often put down to a disease that the child eventually died from. "As a result, malnutrition - although recognised as the underlying cause of a third of under-five deaths - does not tend to appear on children's death certificates, in country records or in global child mortality statistics," the report read.

The statistical invisibility of malnutrition, especially stunting, is one possible explanation for the slow progress on reducing the proportion of stunted children in relation to reducing other cases of child mortality. It has been estimated that, in the 20 countries that are home to 80 per cent of the world's stunted children, malnutrition was an underlying cause of 51 per cent of diarrhoea deaths, 57 per cent of malaria deaths, 52 per cent of pneumonia deaths and 45 per cent of measles deaths.

According to the Lancet journal published in 2003, child survival is estimated that 1.3 million children's lives could be saved with 90 per cent universal breastfeeding for six months followed by continued breastfeeding for at least one year. In addition, 587,000 lives could be saved with adequate complementary feeding for children 6-24 months old. As well as reducing stunting, optimal breastfeeding could prevent 13 per cent of all child deaths - more than any other preventive intervention - and complementary feeding could prevent an additional 6 per cent.

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