Zambia can lead region in mitigating malnutrition, says UN local boss

Zambia has successfully concluded a high-level national nutrition convention held from 17-18 February 2011 in Livingstone. The convention with the theme “accelerating nutrition actions in Zambia” was organized by the National Food and Nutrition Commission and stakeholders that included the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The convention resolved to scale up activities aimed at mitigating malnutrition among children.

President Banda (L) and the UN Resident Coordinator, Kanni Wignaraja (R) exchanging notes during the convention-picture by M Maseko/WFP

During the opening of the national nutrition convention, Kanni Wignaraja, UN Resident Coordinator said that the first Millennium Development Goal calls for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, and its achievement is crucial for national progress on human development. She further noted that failing to achieve this goal jeopardizes the achievement of other MDGs, including goals to achieve universal primary education (MDG2), reduce child mortality (MDG4) and improve maternal health (MDG5).

Many countries, including Zambia, are close to meeting the target on underweight prevalence. In Zambia progress has been made in reducing underweight prevalence from 21% in 1992 to 15% in 2007.

The major concern is the stunting of children.  It is estimated that in Africa and Asia 200 million children under 5 years of age are stunted– that is about 90 per cent of all children in these two regions. Furthermore, children living in rural areas are almost one and a half times as likely to be stunted as those in urban areas; and children in the poorest 20 per cent households are twice as likely to be stunted as the children in the richest 20 per cent of households. These are trends that also apply in Zambia. And these are not just random numbers.

Wignaraja said that behind each data point is a child who will grow up with disadvantage and disability. Focusing on Zambia the national data reveals that stunting impacts about 45 per cent of the children under five in the country. She noted that it has been an invisible silent emergency in many of our countries for too long, and it is heartening to see the matter being taken up visibly and seriously in Zambia. “And Zambia can show that something can be done about it in the region” added Wignaraja.

Speaking for the United Nations system that has been working on nutrition issues across countries, Wignaraja said “we know from global evidence and practice that the focus has been on those critical “first one thousand days” – for this is where it all begins, and with the right interventions, reversals can happen.” Stunting is a phenomenon of early childhood occurring during those 1,000 days from pregnancy to the age of 2 years. Proven solutions are available now.

A package of 13 highly cost effective interventions has been identified to prevent and treat under-nutrition in children less than two years of age. They include promoting good feeding practices, increasing intake of vitamins and minerals through continued fortification and supplementation for both mothers and children and exclusive and early initiation of breast feeding. It is a life-cycle approach. 

In recent months, more than 100  governments of developing countries, civil society organizations, development agencies, donors and members of the private sector have come together to create the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative – A Framework for Action, which outlines the actionable priorities to improve infant and child nutrition in countries with a high burden of stunting

The Resident Coordinator highlighted three core aspects of national strategy and institutional change that had made a difference elsewhere, and hoped that would do the same in Zambia:

  • First, recognizing that nutrition is not merely a health issue, nor is it just about food. To make a change it requires concerted actions across health, education, agriculture, and finance and community development. Such a broader multi-sectoral approach that addresses the very determinants of under-nutrition which are poverty, food insecurity, illiteracy and gender inequality, are critical to a meaningful and sustainable response. Therefore, what we learn, how we apply our knowledge and capacities, is an essential part of getting it right. 
  • Second, this concerted response to doing away with malnutrition and stunting requires public-private partnerships. It is a challenge that needs the full engagement of the private sector, and the engagement of communities, working closely with state bodies especially at local levels.  They must be there as investors as service delivery agents and as concerned citizens providing a social watch function to ensure their children’s well-being. And this also links to the partnership with the global international community to bring in the global expertise, resources and good practices, as needed.
  • Third, countries and communities that have addressed nutrition effectively are those who have put education, gender equality and nutrition at the very top of the national development agenda. And these are countries that are now climbing fast up the ladder of human development.


Wignaraja underscored that the United Nations in Zambia was there to support the efforts of the country to attain the MDGs and to improve its human development indicators each year.

“The strong leadership commitment that exists in Zambia combined with an equally strong national coordination mechanism that must be multi-sectoral in nature would ensure that this issue is addressed effectively and rapidly” said Wignaraja.

While opening the convention Mr. Rupiah Bwezani Banda, President of the Republic of Zambia said “My Government is convinced that investing in high-impact nutrition interventions produces exceptional pay-offs in terms of reduced morbidity, mortality and improved physical and mental growth.  “Through these interventions, Zambia can meet the millennium development goals and the nutrition vision of becoming a prosperous middle-income country by the year 2030,” Mr Banda said.  The president said all sectors of the economy should work together while each sector needed to focus on how its work could at all times influence the nutritional well-being of the people.

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The national convention involved the participation of key stakeholders drawn from the food and nutrition sector.  The two-day forum attracted 130 participants from Zambia and abroad from the Government, United Nations, bilateral partners, multilateral agencies, international and local non-governmental organizations, academicians and the private sector.

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