Zimbabweans on the brink of deadly malnutrition

…as they now prefer junk food owing to growing poverty

Lovemore Lubinda

Raiza Goronga (63) of Dande Valley in Mount Darwin is a disturbed woman she worries from what she will have for the next meal, her breakfast is usually composed of porridge, while mauyu (baobab tree fruits) or  sadza with plain vegetables making up her lunch and/ or super respectively.

The prevailing economic hardships further compounded by the poor and dwindling crop yields, has jeopardised her ability to have decent meals. “Sometimes I just have to skip meals, have wild fruits during the day and reserve sadza for super. I can’t afford a balanced meal, and for me, the important part is having something on the table,” she says.

Miles away, Sibusilizwe Mhofu (44) of Mabvuku, a suburb east of Harare is almost in a similar predicament,  the economic meltdown that claimed her husband’s job two years ago, has eroded her buying choices.

Mhofu says she does not worry of the quality of food she could get any more, but on the availability, affordability, and quantity, thus drifting more and more from qualitative to quantitative based buying option.

“We have been forced to employ various coping mechanisms in response, it is now a luxury to dream of what should be eaten for a balanced diet, and my family have resorted to buying cheap groceries to avoid starving.

“Our situation has been further compromised by lack of crisis alleviating measures and policies like food for work targeting us, the urban poor, taking into account that we have become equally vulnerable to food insecurity as our rural counterparts,” she adds.

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According to a civil society organisation advocating for (formulation) of pro-poor policies, the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT)’s findings through its Basic Needs Basket (BNB) surveys the underperformance of the country’s agriculture, exacerbated by lack of incentives to support local staple food (maize) production, as well as the current cash and economic crisis have impacted the urban poor’s choices on food.

PRFT executive director, Judith Kaulem in an interview with ZimNews said people have lost their buying power, owing to economic factors such as cost, income, availability, forcing them to adjust their lifestyles as a coping mechanism and risk malnutrition and related diseases.

“We have gathered first hand experiences on how the households are coping in the face of inadequate resources.  Households (low income) are employing adaptive strategies which range from dietary changes to rationing. For example, households indicated that they are relying on less preferred and less expensive food to cope with the high cost of food. Preference is now given to quantity other than quality owing to cost benefit considerations,” she explained.

Kaulem said ideally, food obtained for household consumption must be of sufficient quality and adequate so that all members of a family can derive appropriate nutrients for growth, development, and healthy bodies, but, this is no longer the case.

Not eating a balanced diet can lead to malnutrition, where one’s diet doesn’t provide the body with all the nutrients it need to function optimally. Malnutrition has different effects on children and adults resulting in different symptoms for adults and children respectively due to their difference in dietary needs.

“The prevailing cash crisis has restricted people to focus on what are called basic food stuffs neglecting and regarding other foods like fruits and diary as luxury, of which are in real sense basic and should be consumed by people as part of a balanced diet.”

“For example, a product such as fresh milk has been revealed by households to be a luxury in household’s expenditure plans. However, milk provides the calcium which is crucial for the stimulation of cognitive performance and prevention of diseases in children” Kaulem said.

Edson Manuwere, a Bindura based nutritionist concurs with Kaulem that eating junk food is a health hazard, and affect negatively, the day to day proper functioning of the body, adds that where possible it is always important for people to have different kinds of foods that have a variety of nutritional values.

“A balanced diet means getting the right types and amounts of food and drink to supply nutrition and energy for maintaining body cells, tissues, and organs for normal growth and development,” he says.

He adds that unbalanced diets affect maintenance of body tissues, cause bad brain and nervous system functioning and impaired growth. He advised that is not good to skip meals and that one must have at least three meals a day.

The research clearly shows increasing child and adult malnourished vulnerability due to household poverty which is linked to decreasing disposable incomes.

The average cost of BNB for a family of five (which excludes the cost of transport, education, health, personal care, etc.) is now $520.08 in Harare, $477.32 in Bulawayo and 474.87 in Mutare. On average, the basic cost of living figures in May 2014 were $ 520.92, $492, 06 and $482.55 in the same towns, respectively. Meanwhile BNB average for urban areas for April 2016 was US$502, 66, reflecting a deficit of US$156, 48 required for the people to meet the basic needs basket.

Kaulem, recommends that the government and local authorities should develop child and vulnerable groups sensitive plans in addressing health and quality nutrition, improved coordinating roles to make sure communities at grass roots level involvement in local plans and social protection programs, and the need to revitalise the economy so that people are gainfully employed, and be able to fully provide for their families.

While affordability of food stuffs that constitute balanced diet has been raised, the government responded by promoting mineral fortification of food products, which is a positive move to some extent. The country is set to introduce a statutory instrument bill soon, meant to make it mandatory for manufacturers of foods to biologically enrich their products with minerals.

Launching the  marketing and distribution of fortified crops for the 2016/17 season in Harare yesterday (Thursday 18 August 2016), minister of Health and Child Care, Doctor David Parirenyatwa said a bill is in the making to ensure that all manufacturers of foods enhance their products with minerals such as zinc, iron,

“The government launched a National Food Fortification Strategy, as a measure to prevent and control micro nutrient deficiency among people.”

“Vitamin A deficiency in children under the age of five cause high risk of them dying before the age of five, while iron deficiency in pregnant women cause amnesia, premature births, low body weights and infant mortality,” he said.

The department of Research Specialist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, and its partners came up with a variety of high nutrient crops now available on the market.

Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2009 Food Balance Sheet (suggests) that a typical diet in Zimbabwe is highly deficient in vitamins and minerals required for health, with latest data confirming that micronutrient deficiencies continue to be a public problem.

The national average intake of zinc, iron, folate, vitamin B 12, and vitamin A ranges from 27 to 64 percent of World Health Organisation Recommended Intake for children and women.

The Zimbabwe 2013 Food and Nutrition Security policy called for action and delivery of nutrition-sensitive interventions; however that was being undermined by inadequate budgetary allocations. In 2013, the National Nutrition Department of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, got below 1% of the ministry’s budget, inadequate for supporting the scaling up of critical nutrition interventions for women and children.

According to the global Human Development Index 2013 rankings, Zimbabwe was ranked at 156 out of 186 countries, a positive move from its 160th position in 2012, attributed to the positive growth trajectory the economy registered following the formation of the Government of National Unit (GNU) and the introduction of the multicurrency regime in 2009 stemmed hyper inflation and improved the availability of goods and services.

Whilst poverty is declining globally, The 2014 UNDP report has put it clear that almost 800 million people are at risk of falling back into poverty due to either structural or life-cycle vulnerabilities. Human poverty statistics in Zimbabwe are still alarming and vulnerability is on the increase.

The Zimstat’s Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (Pices) of 2011/2012 found out that 62% of the country’s estimated 13 million people are living in poverty mostly in rural areas and high-density suburbs. However, with the recent downward revision of the GDP growth rate to 3.4 % in 2014 as the country continues to battle with economic challenges, high levels of unemployment, reduced livelihoods opportunities coupled with poor service delivery and lack of safety nets for the poor has no doubt increased the vulnerability of the poor.

A health workforce is able to put in the hours required for meaningful production which brings economic prosperity. As noted by World Bank 2014, ill health is a major cause of poverty.

Source: zwnews.com