UNICEF today appealed for the inclusion of nutrition security as an essential element of every national development plan – as critical as clean water and indispensable as education – as a cornerstone to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015.
UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, said nearly 20 million children under the age of five around the world are afflicted with severe acute malnutrition. Globally, 170-180 million children are stunted.
“For far too long, this silent emergency has received far too little attention,” said Lake, who is in Uganda to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly. “But thanks to the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement and the leadership of many governments, the global community has begun to see that nutrition is – and must be – more than a footnote in the food security debate.”
In Uganda, national figures indicate that 33 per cent of children under the age of 5 are stunted, while the combined effects of stunting, anaemia and low birth weight cost the country an estimated USD$ 310 million every year.
Stunting occurs when a child is deprived of critical nutrition elements at any time during his or her mother’s pregnancy right up to their second birthday. It causes permanent, irreversible damage to a child’s development and greatly reduces his or her capacity to learn in school, or earn a decent living as an adult, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Lake met with Ugandan Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, to discuss the country’s nutrition situation and the urgent need to accelerate nutrition interventions to reduce stunting and malnutrition generally. At the meeting, Lake expressed UNICEF’s commitment to work with the Ugandan Government on improved mother-child nutrition programmes, provide essential supplies such as Vitamin A supplements and ready-to-use therapeutic foods, and to train more community workers to feed children well and keep them healthy.
Lake also met with First Lady and Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Janet Museveni, to discuss the situation in Karamoja sub-region, where indicators are much lower than national averages and where the arid terrain directly affects nutrition and food security.
In response, the First Lady praised the continued partnership between her Ministry and UNICEF in prioritizing the most vulnerable.
At Mulago National Referral Hospital, Lake and a delegation of IPU Assembly parliamentarians toured the Mwanamugimu (Luganda for “healthy child”) Child Nutrition Unit to interact with children afflicted by severe acute malnutrition and their caregivers and observe Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) services.
The unit is a national child nutrition referral centre, which provided treatment to an estimated 3,000 children with severe acute malnutrition through 14 outpatient therapeutic sites and 1 in-patient centre in 2011.
Lake also toured an innovative new Mobile Vital Registration System (MobileVRS) project that registers the births of new-born babies and issues them with instant birth certificates. MobileVRS was developed through a partnership between UNICEF and Uganda Telecom Limited, working with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) to boost birth registration in Uganda from the current rate of 30 per cent of children under 5 years to 80 per cent of all children nationwide by 2014.
Lake later interacted with young people at the Treasure Life Youth Centre in the Kamwokya slum area, where he also observed local children using the “Digital Drum” – a rugged, solar-powered computer kiosk designed by a UNICEF-led team which enables children in rural and disadvantaged communities in Uganda to access information. The “Digital Drum” was voted by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2011.
“We believe innovations can help accelerate our progress for children, using new technology and new ideas such as the Digital Drum and Mobile VRS, to reach the hardest to reach communities and the most vulnerable children, mothers and families to improve access to basic services,” said Lake.