The unaccounted cost of malnutrition


The issue of nutrition is often played down as little significance is attached to the subject and no consideration is made of how dire its effects in our communities can be if one finds himself on the wrong side of it.

With little attention being invested in the issue by policy makers, politicians and all, it is with little wonder that families too care less to put together a meal containing all the requisites for body nourishment.

The problem of malnutrition has direct links to increased cases of morbidities, mortalities, school repetitions, school dropouts and reduced physical capacities that are directly associated with a person’s nutritional status before the age of five.


All these put together bring about a silent yet very stinging effect on a country’s economic front because of all the associated costs that come along with efforts made to correct these after-effects.

According to a recent study on the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) it was found that the problem of child malnutrition is not only a social but also an economic issue as countries are experiencing significant economic loss as a result of current and past child undernourishment.

The COHA study locally is led by National Implementation Team (NIT) which is composed of experts from different government ministries and departments, UNICEF as well as WFP Malawi and other partners.


Here in Malawi, the total annual cost associated with child undernourishment is estimated at MK147 billion, an equivalent of 10.3 percent of the country’s Gross Development Product (GDP) and it is reported that 235 of all child mortality cases in Malawi are associated with malnutrition.

On top of that, 66 percent of the adult population engaged in manual activities was stunted as children, representing an annual loss of MK16.5 billion according to the study findings.

One organisation which is working in the area of nutrition in Malawi is the Civil Society Organisation Nutrition Alliance- Malawi (CSONA) and they have been working on increasing awareness on the dangers and spiral effects of malnutrition.

Advocacy and Campaign Officer for CSONA Joseph Gausi has said the problem of malnutrition has been compounded by poverty and minimal awareness on its effect as people are ignorant of its ripple effects both on the social and economic fronts.

“Research has shown us that much damage leading up to stunting is done within the first 1,000 days; from conception to the child’s second birthday. So most people do not know that this is the most critical period and they do not have a good dietary intake that will give them a healthy body and good nourishment to the child and that in turn affects the development of the child,” Gausi said.

He said the problem of malnutrition is very big and the country continues to lose a lot of money as it seeks to implement remedies to correct the effects of poor nutrition.

“At the moment we could say that nutrition is a big problem with the latest statistics showing that 37 percent of children are malnourished, meaning out of every 10, every 3-4 children are stunted. And data has shown us that stunting has long-lasting impact on the future of children as it affects the cognitive development of the brain, and hence affecting their performance in school.

“It also affects the productivity of the people and that leaves a mark on the economy of the country because if we do not have healthy children, they will graduate into individuals who do not have the capacity to deliver,” he said.

He advised that as a country, there is need to invest in nutrition by bringing interventions that will help reduce the gap in stunting.

“If we try to put more effort in preventing stunting from occurring rather than investing in corrective measures, then we will save a lot,” he said.

Malawi has committed to reduce stunting by 40 percent by 2025 in line with the World Health Assembly targets and Gausi feels the feat is attainable if only more resources can be channelled towards the cause.

Together with its strategic implementing partners like World Vision and Save the Children, CSONA is implementing various initiatives in the country to create more awareness on malnutrition and achieve good nutrition.

As one way of drumming up awareness, CSONA has engaged the media in making them Nutrition Champions with the view of benefitting from their status and position to bring about change which will even lead to increased funding.

“We do understand that the media industry in this country has played a very critical role in shaping the public opinion,” he said, adding that this is the reason his organisation has made a decision to bring the media on board to instill a sense of ownership as they report on the issue.

“You would agree with me that it is very rare or almost impossible for issues of nutrition to be part of the agenda on many platforms that matter the most as does issues of politics, corruption or human rights. It is our conviction that progress is not being made in this sector owing to the perception on the issues of nutrition,” said Gausi.

The question whether the media will really stand up for the cause to bring about the desired impact to end malnutrition in the country cannot be answered now. But what is most certain is that the country continues to lose billions of kwacha due to the problem of malnutrition.

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