The department of HIV/AIDS and Nutrition, under the Ministry of Health (MoH), has been allocated K58 billion in the 2021/2022 national budget, a drop from K80 billion in the last financial year; and, the development has worried the parliamentary committee responsible.
Finance Minister, Felix Mlusu, presented a K1.9 trillion worth budget of which K182.2 billion has been allocated to the health sector, representing 9.4 percent of the total budget.
Presently, parliamentarians are attending cluster meetings before they return to the chamber in two weeks to debate the budget and decide whether or not to pass it.
And, speaking after one such meeting on Wednesday in the capital Lilongwe, chairperson for the parliamentary committee on HIV/AIDS and Nutrition, Deus Gumba, said the reduction seemed minimal but was quick to hint that the development would cost the country hugely in the long run.
"Just imagine, resources amounting to K147 billion are lost every year as a consequence of under-nutrition in children," Gumba said.
He recalled that Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) III stipulates that five per cent of the total budget should be allocated towards nutrition.
"We seemed to be going in the right direction with the 2020/2021 budget as nutrition was allocated 3.7 per cent of the total budget.
"[But] we have digressed this year as instead of going up from the 3.7 per cent which was allocated last year, we have gone down," he pointed out, saying in the current budget estimates, only 2.9 per cent has been allocated to nutrition.
According to Gumba, the country still has no law on nutrition despite so many attempts to have the Food and Nutrition Bill tabled in Parliament since 2018.
"We have taken note of funding challenges encountered in the nutrition sector in the ending financial year as well as recommendations that have been proposed during the meeting," he said.
Gumba committed to continuing lobbying treasury to increase the allocation towards nutrition so that it is in tandem with what is provided in Malawi Vision 2063 and MGDS III.
"We commit to lobby for the devolution of nutrition resources to local government authorities to effectively support the delivery of delegated nutrition functions.
"It is high time the budget line should be provided to councils on nutrition," he appealed.
Civil Society Organizations Nutrition Alliance (CSONA) National Coordinator, Bessie Ndovi, said there is compelling evidence generated economically which shows eliminating malnutrition could have a huge economic gain.
She said the National Multi-Sector Nutrition Policy recognises that nutrition is a prerequisite for social and economic growth for the country.
"The country is grappling with multiple burdens of malnutrition such as child stunting, wasting and underweight at 37.1 per cent, 3 per cent and 11. 7 per cent respectively," Ndovi stated.
On his part, Oxfam Livelihood Resilience Manager, Steve Kuliyazi, hailed the German Cooperation and GIZ Malawi for providing financial support to his organisation to implement a project that aims at influencing the 'Increase in Resource Allocation and Accountability for the Nutrition Sector in Malawi'.
He said increased investment in the nutrition sector would reduce malnutrition levels significantly.