Nairobi — The Ministry of Health has launched new measures to tackle malnutrition aiming to improve Kenyans' health, nutrition and quality of life, boost immunity against diseases like COVID-19 and accelerate social and economic growth in the country.
This includes the implementation framework for securing a breastfeeding-friendly environment at workplaces (2020-2024) and the Kenya Nutrition Action Plan (2018-2022), both supported by UNICEF and partners. The action plan, which will now be fully implemented, is an ambitious, cross-sectoral strategy designed to tackle malnutrition in all stages of life.
"Good nutrition at every stage of life is part of the foundation of a prosperous society," said Mutahi Kagwe, Cabinet Secretary for Health. "For the first time, five Ministries and the Council of Governors are working hand in hand with a range of partners on a Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan to stamp out malnutrition in Kenya once and for all."
According to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, more than a quarter (26 per cent) of children under the age of five are so malnourished that they have become stunted or too short for their age. This has both short and long-term consequences for the individual, society and economy. Rates of stunting are as high as 46 percent in some counties like Kitui and West Pokot.
The survey also shows that across the country, more than one in ten children (11 percent) are underweight, with four percent being wasted, or underweight for their height.
Evidence from the recently released Kenya Cost of Hunger Study (2019) shows that this has a huge economic cost: the country lost 6.9 percent of its Gross Domestic Product due to undernutrition in one year (2014). However, according to an investment framework for nutrition in Kenya by UNICEF, World Bank, and Ministry of Health (2016), for every Sh100 invested in nutrition, we see a Sh2,200 return.
The Kenya Nutrition Action Plan (KNAP) therefore outlines a multi-faceted approach to managing the root causes of malnutrition: from community health services, to food production, education, social protection and safe water supply.
"When we talk about a prosperous nation, we have to talk about investing in nurturing human capital. This starts with children. Only if a child is well-nourished can he or she develop and grow well, stay healthy, learn well and be able to reach his or her full potential," said UNICEF Representative to Kenya Maniza Zaman. "Good nutrition also boosts immunity, giving both children and adults better protection against diseases, including COVID-19."
Alongside the KNAP, the Government is launching a series of supporting strategies, designed to help achieve its aims. These include implementation framework for securing a breastfeeding-friendly environment at workplaces (2020-2024): This provides a national roadmap for coordinated implementation and monitoring of interventions to support breastfeeding in the workplaces both in the public and private sectors. The Kenya Agri-Nutrition Strategy (2020 to 2024): This focuses on securing access to safe, diverse and nutritious food, by strengthening the national food chain and community production.
The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network Kenya Strategy (2019 to 2023). This recognises the role of the private sector in making safe and nutritious food available and affordable. The Kenya Nutrition Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (2018 to 2022). This ensures Government and partners can monitor the progress and success of the KNAP.
National Nutrition Fact Sheet, Programmatic Guidelines and Policies on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition. These explain a range of supportive measures authorities and communities can take, from breastfeeding-friendly workplaces to vitamin A supplementation.
"Agriculture plays a critical role in nutrition," said Peter Munya, Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives. "We are doing everything within our power to improve Kenya's food production and access so that every child, adult and elderly person can be well-fed and healthy. As part of these efforts, we have developed the Agri-Nutrition Strategy in collaboration with partners."
At the local level, 18 counties have also formulated their own County Nutrition Action Plans (CNAPs), with some already launched and others being launched in the coming month.
"Tackling malnutrition is a team effort - requiring business leaders to work in partnership with the Government, civil society and consumers to make sure that safe, nutritious food is available and affordable to everyone," Leah Kaguara, GAIN Country Director and Convenor of the SUN Business Network, said.
UNICEF Kenya's work to tackle malnutrition includes working with communities and health workers, supporting the enhancement of food systems for improved diets, and supporting the Government on the county and national policies and programmes.
"To translate these policies into results at the human level we need to invest and see sufficient budgets allocated and used well for the actions in the national and the county-level plans," UNICEF's Maniza Zaman said. "UNICEF, with the UN family, will continue to work in partnership with the Government and others to boost nutrition and prosperity across Kenya."