Stunted growth in Tanzanian children has to end now or never

12Aug 2020
The Guardian
Stunted growth in Tanzanian children has to end now or never

Stunted growth is a reduced growth rate in human development. It is a primary manifestation of malnutrition or more precisely under-nutrition and recurrent infections, such as diarrhea in early childhood and even before birth, due to malnutrition during fetal development brought-

-on by a malnourished mother. The definition of stunting according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is for the "height for age" value to be less than two standard deviations of the WHO Child Growth Standards median.

As of 2012 an estimated 162 million children under 5 years of age, or 25 per cent, were stunted. More than 90 per cent of the world's stunted children live in Africa and Asia. Once established, stunting and its effects typically become permanent. Stunted children may never regain the height lost as a result of stunting, and most children will never gain the corresponding body weight. Living in an environment where many people defecate in the open due to lack of sanitation, is an important cause of stunted growth in children. The causes for stunting are principally very similar if not the same as the causes for malnutrition in children. Most stunting happens during the 1,000-day period that spans from conception to a child's second birthday. The three main causes of stunting in most developing countries, are poor feeding practices, poor maternal nutrition, and poor sanitation.

Against the backdrop, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa has directed regional commissioners in the Southern Highlands zone to initiate study and action to reverse high rates of stunting among children in the key farming zone considered as the country’s grain basket.

In a speech read on his behalf at the weekend by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Tulia Ackson at the climax of the Nanenane agricultural exhibition held at the John Mwakangale grounds in Mbeya city, Majaliwa said it was a shame to have severely malnourished children in a zone with abundant food.

 He stated that stunting levels in southern highland regions have now reached 42.9 per cent which is much higher than the national average of 31.8 percent. The premier said there is so far no clear scientific explanation as to why the problem grows annually even as food production also increases, hence the need for a study to recommend solutions.

He said that regions in the Southern Highlands zone produced 11.4m tonnes of various food crops in the past harvest season, and that the regions collectively surpassed their food production expected levels by 201 percent.

 “There is no reason for children to be stunted because you have enough food. I direct regional commissioners to collaborate with stakeholders to conduct research on the source of the problem and come up with strategies on how to end it,” said the premier.

Dr Ackson said that while inspecting different pavilions at the exhibition grounds, she noticed that most food items produced in the regions are nutritious enough to curb stunting.

The Southern Highlands zone is made up of Mbeya, Njombe, Rukwa, Iringa, Ruvuma and Songwe regions.

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