On May 29th, 2015 the Global Nutrition Report East Africa will belaunched inTanzania Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Richard Baguma, Chair, Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Scaling up Nutrition (UCCO-SUN) diseases discusses in an interview with Sharon Mwesigye about the need for more action and awareness creation for Ugandans on nutrition as a social and development issue.
What is the status of Uganda on nutrition?
Although Uganda is a gifted country with lots of food, it is surprising that we still have a big number of children and women who are malnourished.
According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS, 2011), 33 percent of all children under 5 years of age were chronically malnourished (stunted, or low height-for-age), 5 percent were acutely malnourished (wasted, or low weight-for-height), and 14 percent were underweight (or low weight-for-age).
In addition, 33 percent of children fewer than 5 years of age in Uganda were vitamin A deficient, while 49 percent of children under 5, 31 percent of pregnant women, and 22 percent of non-pregnant women suffered from anemia.
In a recent report by World Food Insecurity 2015, the number of people who are malnourished had declined up to 25.5%. However, this figure is still high. It needed to come down because we have the potential and the ability.
What is the main cause of malnutrition in Uganda?
I would say it is mostly ignorance. Parents are feeding their children on wrong foods. Adults are also feeding on dry unhealthy foods which according to them are more classy and modern.
With the local foods that we have in Uganda, it is a shame that we still have a big number of people suffering from the disease. This perception that supermarket food is better has been ignited by media.
People’s life style where chips and chicken has become the order of the town people is the reason why we are facing his problem. Secondary, there is lack of proper guidelines and policies on food policies.
Most children in Uganda spend most of their time in schools where they are fed on whichever foods that the schools feel fit for the children. There is no need for government to come up with school food policy.
However we cannot dispute the problem of poverty, there are families that are eating one meal a day or even going without because they cannot afford to buy food especially those living in urban areas.
Some of these families are forced to eat the same kind of food like posh which is cheap every day. That is where government has to come in to make sure that they put ways through which the citizens can get out poverty.
Lastly there are gender and cultural issues. Although this may seem unreasonable, but it is true in most families, men are still being saved the best foods while the children are saved last.
Social beliefs where people believe that eating meeting every day signifies being well off while having greens and beans means you are poor are still some of the challenges that we have.
The report talks about nutrition being a social and development issue, what is the viability of the statement?
Malnutrition is a big development issue. If you have a big number of communities in bad health, it means that their productivity is going to be down and we will continue to have a big number of dependents.
Malnutrition does not affect the body alone; it affects the mind as well. When a child is not fed well while growing up, it means that even as an adult, his mind will not be well developed. Malnutrition is a silent disaster.
Someone’s level of competitiveness in economic and academic issues is affected by malnutrition and this leads to poverty and economic breakdown.
As for the government, Uganda has lost over 1.8 trillion in cases related to hunger and malnutrition.
Of course when malnutrition reached at a certain stage, a person must be put into a hospital and government is forced to spend on medication and other requirements.
This wouldn’t be the issues if we fed well. On the other hand, nutrition is a social issue because of the life styles and beliefs that affect nutrition like I have explained before.
As an Organization that is concerned about nutrition issues, what you are doing to help with the problem?
We are set on creating awareness. Most people do not appreciate the effects of malnutrition. They think it is a small problem for the poorperson which is not true. Even being overweight (obesity) which is becoming most common in rich people is malnutrition.
We are using the media and other mediums to make sure that the public is informed about the silent killer diseases. We are also into policy advocacy.
We have done research and made a number of research on nutrition which we present to policy makers with hope that the policies we proposal will be implemented.
Is the government doing enough to fight malnutrition?
Nutrition is no longer just a health problem, but a social and development problem that needs to be addressed collaboratively by different actors, including the government ministries, the private sector, civil society, researchers, and development partners.
The Uganda government made a five year Uganda Nutrition Action Plan 2011–2016 whose goal entails improving the nutritional status of all Ugandans, with emphasis on women of reproductive age, young children, and infants.
This notwithstanding , additional efforts are needed to help maximize the effectiveness of the efforts of the government and its partners so that nutrition service delivery can be strengthened and expanded across the country.
National-level advocacy must continue and the advocacy process needs to be further decentralized to create momentum for sustained change.