Zimbabwe Faces Child Malnutrition Crisis Amidst Growing Food Security Concerns
14 December 2023
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By Lloyd Makonese (Public Health Insights)
Harare, Zimbabwe – As Zimbabwe confronts a rising tide of child malnutrition, intertwined factors of socioeconomic challenges, sociopolitical unrest, inaccessibility of agricultural outputs due to escalating cost, and the devastating effects of climate change are casting a dark shadow over the nation.

With many families losing their primary sources of income, the basic necessities of life, such as food and medicine, are becoming luxuries. Recent reports paint a bleak picture: a sharp uptick in malnourished children, with some regions witnessing such severe cases that hospitalisation becomes a tragic necessity.

While the Zimbabwean government has recognised the magnitude of the crisis and committed to remedial actions, many citizens and activists argue that the response must be more immediate and comprehensive. They call for increased investments in the agricultural sector and bolstering social safety net programs. On the international front, organizations like the United Nations World Food Programme are intensifying their efforts, launching initiatives focusing on vulnerable groups like children and expectant or nursing mothers.

Disturbing Statistics on Malnutrition:
As reported by UNICEF, around 2.1% of Zimbabwean children under five were severely malnourished as of 2016, and this alarming trend appears to be on an upward trajectory. The same year 2016 saw Zimbabwe grappling with its most severe malnutrition rates in a decade and a half. Nearly 33,000 children urgently required treatment for acute malnutrition and up to date the mortality rate is understood to be on the rise. UNICEF’s publication of 2020 (Malnutrition cases rise as drought, economic deterioration hits Zimbabwe) highlights that almost 100,000 children under five are acutely malnourished, with over a million not receiving adequate nutrition for proper growth.

Geographical and Demographic Insights:
Zimbabwe’s nutritional landscape is marred by poor diet quality, with protein and micronutrient deficiencies hindering child growth. Exclusive breastfeeding rates are dishearteningly low at 42%, increasing the risk of early-age infections. With 8.7% of newborns being underweight, the cyclical nature of malnutrition becomes evident. Tragically, while overweight prevalence among children under five stands at 2.5%, an astounding 12.6% of infants are born underweight.

The Far-Reaching Impact of Malnutrition:
The repercussions of malnutrition are multifaceted and long-lasting. The BCG foundation reports that a staggering 25% of child deaths in Zimbabwe can be attributed to malnutrition. The long-term consequences include stunting, wasting, cognitive impairments, and physical ailments. Anemia, leading to fatigue and breathlessness, is another significant outcome.

Homely Remedies to Combat Malnutrition:
To alleviate the immediate effects of malnutrition, several dietary recommendations have been made:

  1. Enhance consumption of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains.
  2. Prioritise protein-rich foods including beans, lentils, and nuts.
  3. Incorporate healthy fats from avocados, seeds, and nuts.
  4. Boost iron intake with red meat, poultry, fish, and leafy greens.
  5. Consume vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits to aid iron absorption.
  6. Strengthen the immune system with zinc-rich foods such as oysters and beef.
  7. High-Protein Porridge: A nutritious blend of groundnuts, millet, and maize offers essential proteins.
  8. Moringa Leaves: These nutrient-packed leaves can be consumed as vegetables or powdered supplements.
  9. Local Fruits: Baobab (Mauyu) and guavas are vitamin-rich and readily available.
  10. Legumes and Small Fish: These provide protein and can be combined with grains for balanced nutrition.

While these remedial measures can offer some respite, a holistic approach is imperative. Increased agricultural investment, broader social safety nets, heightened nutrition awareness, and healthier dietary habits can pave the way for a brighter, nourished future for Zimbabwe’s children.