We should address the challenge of childhood stunting  

17Feb 2020
The Guardian
We should address the challenge of childhood stunting  

Stunted growth is a reduced growth rate in human development. It is a primary manifestation of malnutrition (or more precisely undernutrition) and recurrent infections, such as diarrhea and helminthiasis, 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 in 2012. More than 90 per cent of the world's stunted children live in Africa and Asia, where respectively 36 per cent  and 56 per cent  of children are affected.  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, for example in India.  

According to reports Dodoma leads other regions in the country for having high prevalence and percentage of stunting among under- five year children, a situation which attributes to poor performance in education sector within the region.

According to the regional medical officer (RMO), Dr Best Magoma, currently, the region’s stunting average stands at 37.2 per cent, which is more than the national stunting rate of 31.8 percent.

Speaking during the Regional Nutrition Committee convened in capital city under chairmanship of Dodoma regional commissioner (RC) Dr Binilith Mahenge; Dr Magoma expressed the need for authorities in all districts within the region to embark on fresh strategies to counter the situation.

“The effects of stunting are usually irreversible and are mainly delayed motor and cognitive development (impaired mental processes of perception, memory, decision making and reasoning). However, stunted girls are likely to experience obstructed labour during childbirth hence highly exposed in developing fistulas and even maternal and/or newborn deaths,” he observed.

 He added, stunting also predisposes an individual to overweight, obesity and related adulthood consequences such as cardio-vascular heart diseases, hypertension and diabetes.

“There’s a need for all districts to conduct serious public awareness, especially among primary school pupils to impart them with key knowledge over how to cheat the dangerous ill disease from grass root levels,” he urged.

However, in her presentation during the round table meeting, Maria Machilu, Programme Officer (Nutrition) from Partnership for Nutrition in Tanzania (PANITA) through Lishe Endelevu USAID Activity, said poor diet, which includes lack of vitamin ‘A’ and nutrients stands among tall challenges facing many communities within the country, leading to stunting, malnutrition, blindness as well as open spine (Spina Bifida) and Big Head (Bran) diseases among children.

“Apart from raising awareness over good and balanced diet, it is prudent to educate mothers on how to take good care for their children during the first 1000 days. These days (1000 days), play vital role of laying a lifelong foundation of children,” she detailed.

Faraja Kassim, Advocacy and Communication Officer from PANITA, in his brief presentation underscored the need to strengthen performance of nutrition committee in all district councils within the region. Moreover, he insisted, It was high time for authorities to mull how best to boost nutrition status in rural areas in order to counter prevalence of the ill disease.

The forum, which attracted district commissioners from all six districts of Dodoma, health experts and other stakeholders also saw launching of Dodoma Regional Multisectoral Nutrition Strategic Plan 2019-2026.

In Tanzania, malnutrition among children under five years has decreased since 1999. However, under nutrition is still highly prevalent in Tanzania. Even with a drop in the percentage of children stunted from 42% in 2010 to 34 percent (TDHS 2015/2016) in that still leaves more than a third of children.

Despite striking improvement in many health indicators over the last decade, there has been poor progress in improving the nutritional status of children and women in Tanzania.