South Africa: Eradicate Stunting and Grow Great

If South Africa is to eradicate stunting, there must be a joint and concerted effort by all corners of society.

This was the sentiment of First Lady, Dr Tshepo Motsepe, spouse of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Stunting is a condition that arises from prolonged under-nutrition and affects physical and brain development.

"It's really unnecessary that we should still be having stunting 25 years into democracy. In confronting the challenges we must begin to implement regular community level surveys to give us an adequate picture of what is driving stunting in our country.

"All sectors of society must be involved. We must work with government, corporates, community health workers and traditional leaders," she said.

Motsepe, who serves as a patron of the South African Civil Society for Women's, Adolescents' and Children's Health (SACSoWACH), delivered the keynote address at the inaugural Grow Great Seminar in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Grow Great is a campaign that aims to confront the hidden challenge of stunting that results from chronic under-nutrition in South Africa.

It's defined as shortness in height for a child's age and it can only be diagnosed by comparing the child's measurements to standardized growth charts.

Grow Great seeks to galvanise South Africa towards a future where no child is unjustly denied the opportunity to reach their full potential.

The inaugural Grow Great Seminar brings together a multi-sectoral group of high-level policymakers, academics, activists, business and civil society leaders and social influencers to deliberate on stunting in South Africa.

In South Africa, 1 in 4 children under the age of five-years-old are stunted.

According to Grow Great, stunted children on average perform worse at school are more likely to be unemployed as adults, at higher risk of getting diseases like diabetes and hypertension and are vulnerable to being trapped in inter-generational cycles of poverty.

"This is unjust as stunting is completely preventable. It also adds an extra burden to an already constrained health system," said Grow Great Executive Director, Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso.

The seminar also showcased progress made locally and internationally on stunting and inspires a national commitment to zero stunting by the year 2030.

Motsepe stressed the importance of bolstering community health workers in the health system, who are often the first point of call for mothers in under-resourced communities.

Africa Nutrition International Regional Director, Richard Pendame, explained that often stunted children are lost in the health system because they don't present as sick patients and do not go for growth monitoring post the first 1000 days (two years).

Pendame emphasised that economies cannot grow if they do not invest adequately in societies.

"Economies cannot grow if we have children that are sick. Ending stunting requires multi-sectoral action, leadership and financing," he said.

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