BY BIANCA GIRAULT: Malnutrition in Ethiopia has dramatic negative effects on children’s life outcomes there. UNICEF reports national trends among children of stunting (44.4%), wasting (9.7%) and being underweight (28.7%). Nutritional indices indicate that there is a lack of iron, iodine, and Vitamin A in Ethiopian foods, which contribute to these national public health problems. Malnutrition is a cyclical problem that begins during pregnancy and heightens at adolescence. In addition, over time, malnutrition has transformed into a chronic handicap that harms children’s futures. According to the New York Times, half of the children suffering from malnutrition in Northern Ethiopia do not die. Ultimately, these children have fewer educational and skill trade opportunities. Without healthy children, Ethiopia will continue to produce unproductive members of society that cannot maintain sufficient lifestyles or contribute to the economic development of the country. For this reason, it is critical that Ethiopia’s National Nutrition Programme (NNP) emphasize the value of pregnant women’s nutrition culturally as it pertains to feeding patters and nutritional services.
The Micronutrient Initiative revealed that two- thirds of pregnant women do not receive any health or nutrition counseling from a trained antenatal care provider. Moreover, almost no pregnant women take iron supplements, despite the high rates of anemia and the risk it presents in Ethiopia. In 2005, the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia reported that 0.1% of pregnant of women were supplemented with less than 90 tabs of iron foliate during their last birth. Next, the government found that anemia is most prevalent amongst pregnant women aged 15- 49. This is problematic because most women are married and pregnant at 16 years old. Therefore, there is a trend of young women with iron deficiencies giving birth to children who are vulnerable to the same or greater nutritional challenges as their mothers.
According to the New York Times, an additional 33 million more children under 5 years of age are living with malnutrition outside of Ethiopia’s Northern region. Malnutrition influences children’s academic performance in schools. For example, many children are unable to pay attention in school. A third grade teacher revealed that children’s “…minds are too slow, and they don’t grasp what you teach them, and they’re always behind in class.” In Shimider, a city in northern Ethiopia, many children become intellectually stunted adults and lose up to 15 I.Q. points, as they are unable to learn or even concentrate. This causes many malnourished children to drop out of school at an early age.
Providing more skilled physicians to communities with pregnant woman that are anemic can reduce iron deficiencies in women and their children. According to the Micronutrient Initiative, today in Ethiopia only 7% of women give birth under the guidance of a skilled doctor of nurse. Pregnant women are unaware of the required prenatal treatment and feeding practices that they should adopt during their pregnancy. The NNP and the Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority (FMHACA) have begun monitoring the safety of nutritional supplies of micronutrient supplements, including iron. Increasing the number of gynecological physicians in Ethiopia will improve women’s access to the nutritional supplements required to give birth to healthy children that do not suffer from issues, such as low birth rate.
Next, integrating health education as it pertains to nutritional deficiencies into colleges can improve women and children’s access to trained local healthcare providers. Many members of society are unable to enter professional jobs due to the plight of malnutrition. Since malnutrition hinders the number of productive members of society, prioritizing the training of young adults in school to address nutritional trends and health risks can alleviate the number of children that are unable to pursue skill trade opportunities. The NNP aims to support colleges with curricula that includes teaching skills that are not readily available. Training young adults locally will foster the research necessary to reduce nutritional deficiencies at the inception of pregnancy.
Finally, the government should consider expanding the Social Cash Transfer Programme to provide food with nutritional supplies in schools. According to IRIN News, the Social Cash Transfer Programme can supplement food insecurity amongst the severely poor and the labor constrained. Children who are unable to receive obtain food with essential nutrients can receive these foods in school. This will allow them to stay awake in class and obtain the training they need to advance in society.
Malnutrition in Ethiopia has reduced the lives of children academically and professionally. Without foods of high nutritional value, children are unable to become productive members of Ethiopian society. Furthermore, they are unable to help improve the growth of the national economy. This challenge begins with pregnant mothers who already suffer anemia due to iron deficiencies. The aforementioned trends due to malnutrition can be effectively addressed through policy solutions that concern access to physicians, health education and structural adjustment programs.