Friday, February 17, 2012

45% of our children are chronically malnourished

45% of our children are chronically malnourished
By The Post
Fri 17 Feb. 2012, 12:00 CAT

ACCORDING to Save the Children, 45 per cent of children in Zambia are chronically malnourished and there has been no significant improvement in reducing the rate in the last few years. Again, according to Save the Children, Zambia is one of the 10 countries in the world with the slowest annual reduction of stunting between 1990 and 2010.

The cold eloquence of these figures is in itself terrifying enough. But beyond them lies the tragic situation of hunger, abject poverty and neglect that is individualised hundreds of thousands of times over. This is an affront to our collective conscience.

[And the government's unwillingness to collect a billion dollars in taxes from the mines. - MrK]

It is an imperative need of our times to be aware of these realities, because of what a situation affecting over 45 per cent of our children entails in terms of human suffering and the squandering of life and intelligence.

Hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance, unemployment, lack of opportunity, insecurity, inequality, hopelessness are the terms that could well define the living conditions of more than 45 per cent of the children of this country.

The total failure of our endeavours to achieve the basic and essential objective of supplying our children with enough food to develop their potentialities for enjoying a full life is today more evident than ever. Malnutrition, hunger must be considered by the majority of our people as a secular, permanent condition of their precarious life.

For them, the hypothetical high growth of our economy has almost no meaning, since it has not been able to prevent or reduce the presence of hunger and under-nourishment. For the millions of hungry people living in our country today, hunger, poverty, malnutrition are not mere conceptual references, but rather tragic daily experiences, disgraceful reality.

The truth is that, despite all the utterances and promises to eradicate it, hunger persists and tends to grow in our country today. There are still many people, especially children, in this country who each day cannot meet the basic needs necessary for a decent human life.

But as we have repeatedly stated, it is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental needs to remain unsatisfied. Economic justice requires that each individual has adequate resources to survive, to develop and thrive, and to give back in service to the community.

A society which values its future affords the highest priority to providing food and adequate healthcare for all its children. Whatever efforts are made today to protect them, to prevent their death and illness, to provide them with food, housing, medicine, clothing and education, will shape the basic human qualities of that decisive percentage of the future population of our country.

And yet, in view of the present trends, what sort of country will we handover to those children? What sort of life lies ahead for these children who will struggle for a decent life, worth at least of human condition? What will their quality of life be like?

Squalor, disease and lack of healthcare are other basic aspects - together with hunger - characterising the dramatic situation in our country. As shown by Save the Children report, the analysis of some indicators and figures is revealing.

As long as nutrition and health fail to be considered as a fundamental right of every child and a duty of the community; as long as the responsibility of the state and of society in regard to healthcare and nutrition fail to be recognised; as long as inequalities in the distribution of health resources and food fail to disappear; as long as poverty, hunger, ignorance and squalor fail to be directly fought against, little will be achieved in improving the lives of our people.

And this is first and foremost a political fact, a political issue. A comprehensive approach is required to fight this situation and to struggle for diminishing or eradicating malnutrition, hunger. The existence of such a large number of hungry and malnourished children in our country constitutes an affront to all of us. A stable, permanent solution must be found for this serious problem.

Children are the most valuable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures. Children must no longer be tortured by the pangs of hunger or ravaged by disease or threatened with the scourge of ignorance.

The value of what Michael Sata and his colleagues are trying to do will be measured in how far it goes to ending malnutrition and hunger and will be measured by the happiness and welfare of our children. The more than 45 per cent of our children who are chronically malnourished is a testimony to an unfinished job.

It is said that there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats, looks after its children. The true character of a society is revealed in how it looks after its children.

There is need for us to invest more resources in nutritional programmes to reduce malnutrition and stunting levels among our children. We are today trying to invest more resources in infrastructure but this investment will not be fully utilised if most of our children are stunted and malnourished and cannot go to school.

Stunted growth is a primary manifestation of malnutrition in early childhood, including malnutrition during foetal development brought on by the malnourished mother. Once established, stunting and its effects typically become permanent.

Stunted children may never regain the height lost, and most children will never gain the corresponding body weight. It also leads to premature death because vital organs never fully develop during childhood. Many of them will also face challenges in school as a result.

Malnutrition in early life is linked to deficits in children's intellectual development that persist in spite of schooling and impair their learning ability. Of course, stunting does not directly cause poor intellectual development in children.

Rather, the same underlying factors that cause stunting are also likely to impair children's intellectual growth. We should also be aware of the fact that nutrition is just one of several causes of growth stunting. Other contributors to stunting include chronic or recurrent infections, sometimes in combination with intestinal parasites.

For this reason, improving healthcare for children is extremely important. We therefore have no sensible alternative to waging a war, without respite, against malnutrition and poor health services to children.

This must be a priority for Michael and his government. If they fail to make progress on this score, everything else they are doing will be of very little value.

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