…amid revelations Lesotho is losing M1.9 billion per year to malnutrition
THE United Nations Organisation (UN) has called on Lesotho to fulfil its stated commitment to ending malnutrition by investing heavily in nutritional programmes.
The call came against the background of revelations by Lesotho’s Food and Nutrition Coordinating Officer, Masekonyela Sebotsa that the country was losing M1.9 billion per year in trying to cure malnutrition.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines malnutrition as the deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and or nutrients.
Malnutrition covers two broad groups of conditions, the first being undernutrition (which includes stunting) wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals).
The second condition covers overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer).
Lesotho’s prevalence of undernourishment had remained stagnant at 15% over the last decade with factors such as the decline in cereal production, low income and rising staple food prices all contributing to worsening food insecurity among the population.
It was against this background of the prevalence of undernourishment that the UN Assistant Secretary-General and Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement Coordinator, Gerda Verburg called on the government of Lesotho to invest in nutrition programmes that would help in drastically addressing malnutrition issues in the country.
Ms Verburg further stated that this would also help in assisting His Majesty King Letsie III share positive stories to the international world in his capacity as African Union (AU) Nutrition Champion and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s Special Ambassador for Food and Nutrition.
Ms Verburg said her mission in Lesotho had found that government was willing to improve its efforts in addressing malnutrition issues.
She however, said that the commitment had to be backed by concrete actions, adding investing in nutrition was the only way to address high malnutrition prevalence rates.
“So we have recommended that government needs to urgently show leadership and ownership of these plans by way of ensuring that national budget addresses nutrition issues,” Ms Verburg said during a media briefing this week.
She said the country should ensure that all ministries worked together to address the nutrition challenge.
She also said Lesotho had to increase its domestic funding for nutrition as this was a good way of investing in human capital.
The 2016 Cost of Hunger report showed that investing in human capital would help the country increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 7 percent.
Lesotho continues to lose 7 percent of its GDP due to increased healthcare costs, additional burdens on the education system and lower productivity of the workforce.
Ms Verburg said the country was prone to climatic disasters resulting in emergencies that needed to be managed.
She however, commended the country for its school feeding programme, saying it was a good initiative to address malnutrition.
She said the country, working closely with World Food Programme (WFP) was not only addressing malnutrition but further creating a business opportunity for small-holder farmers who supplied food for the feeding scheme.
“I am happy to go and share this information with other countries, your country is doing well on this sector. Investment in education can be improved if you start addressing malnutrition in the first 1000 days of the child,” she said.
“We have also recommended that National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) must put improved nutrition at its centre. Lesotho is making progress in fighting stunting as the numbers are going down.”
Meanwhile, the latest Cost of Hunger Report states that human capital is the foundation of social and economic development, as articulated in the African Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It states that the improved nutritional status of people had a direct impact on economic performance through increased productivity and enhanced national comparative advantage.
“Further, healthy children would achieve better education, be more productive as adults and have higher chances of breaking the cycle of poverty. Undernutrition leads to a significant loss in human and economic potential.”
Asked what they were doing to ensure that no child was left behind, Ms Verburg said they had requested government through the Ministry of Health to come up with national nutritional programmes targeting children from hard to reach areas.
She said it was important for people to understand that investing in nutrition was cheaper than curing malnutrition.
When taking up his role in December 2016, His Majesty said nutrition had been neglected for many years despite that the fact that it was of great importance “not only to us as individuals but to countries in the world as a whole”.
“I am hoping that through my ambassadorship I can contribute to the promotion of better nutrition and food security through the world,” His Majesty said at the time, adding that nutrition was a multi-sectoral issue which needed a multi-sectoral approach.
It was against the background of His Majesty’s role as Nutrition Champion that the Ms Verburg visited the country this week to commend Lesotho on significant milestones made in addressing in ending malnutrition.
For her part, Food and Nutrition Coordinating Officer, Masekonyela Sebotsa conceded that there had not been adequate investment in nutrition.
Dr Sebotsa said all government ministries had indicated their annual budgets did not incorporate nutrition, probably owning to lack of nutrition advocacy.
She said Lesotho was losing M1.9 billion per year in trying to cure malnutrition.
“Starting this year we are going to step up our efforts in ensuring that nutrition is budgeted for. We have met with the Ministry of Finance and have come up with a costed plan which will be taken to government to ensure that they own it.”