By NAMPWERA CHRISPUS
ZANZIBAR- SHIFTMEDIA- Every June, governments, NGOs, and international organisations across Africa gather to discuss the challenges facing the full realization of the rights of children in Africa.
Of those not yet realized by Uganda are the rights to health and adequate food which has, in turn, led to stunting.
Stunting is low height-for-age and is usually a result of growing under limited provision of food, health, and care. A child is considered stunted when their height is below a defined cutoff point. The right to health is the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.
The right to health embraces a wide range of socio-economic factors that promote conditions in which people can lead a healthy life, and extends to the underlying determinants of health such as food and nutrition, access to safe and potable water among others. According to WHO, in children aged 5 and below, 155 million are stunted, 52 million wasted with 17 million severely wasted, while 41 million are overweight and/or obese.
In Africa, around 58.5 million children are suffering from stunting and it is the only continent where the numbers have increased over the last two decades. 39% and 28% of the world’s stunted and wasted children respectively are in Africa, stunting rising from 23.6 to 26.8 million in East and South Africa over that time.
Damage caused by stunting is irreversible, has many adverse consequences for child survival and long-term well-being, and has far-reaching consequences for human capital, economic productivity, and national development. It also causes irreparable stunted physical growth and inhibits children’s intellectual development. Children who suffer from stunting or wasting are also more likely to suffer poor health, are at risk of disease, premature death, and diet-related conditions. Stunting also inhibits Children’s future development as they may never grow to their full height or develop their full cognitive potential, and are at an elevated risk of poverty. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, stunting is not even given that much attention in Uganda as child height is not even in child health care and therefore not tracked. Even the only statistics by Uganda are based on the Demographic Health Survey, done every five years.
Uganda’s Constitution guarantees medical services, food security, and nutrition for everyone, while the Early Childhood Development Policy recognizes that Children need holistic needs like nutrition, health, and nurture. It recognizes that improving maternal, infant, and young child nutrition, and addressing their nutritional needs will arrest a lifetime of problems that malnourished children face and the burdens they impose on households, communities, and the nation. However, 29% of all Ugandan children under five are stunted with Human Capital Index at 38%, meaning a child born in Uganda is expected to achieve only 38% of their productive potential by 18 with the current education and health state.
There is, therefore, a need to implement preventive programs within the agricultural and health sectors, training and equipping health system volunteers in communities and health workers to identify the signs of chronic undernutrition and addressing them, improving maternal and infant nutrition and health care interventions, and reviewing the mother-child health passport, The first 29 months of life carry the highest risk for future stunting and addressing the challenges can break the cycle of stunting, malnutrition, poverty, wasting among others.
Also, encouraging breastfeeding for the first 2 years of life is very vital for Children between 6-23 months as they have greater nutritional needs than at any other time of life and this prevents malnutrition too.
Exclusive breastfeeding without any food gives children the perfect nutrition for healthy growth and brain development. It also provides protection from respiratory infections, diarrhea, and other life-threatening illnesses, and can also help to prevent obesity and some non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, later in life. Important also are; providing diverse and nutritious foods during childhood, access to basic services such as water, and health, building capacity of stakeholders in respecting and protecting the rights of children to health, food and nutrition through health care intervention to prevent lifetime morbidities caused by malnutrition, wasting and stuntedness.
The author is a Lawyer and Fellow of the East Africa Emerging Public Interest Advocates Programme, Centre for Strategic Litigation, Zanzibar