According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stunting affected 43.7% of children in the period 2005-2011, falling less than 5% from a level of 48% in 2003.
Some progress in improving child health and nutrition has been achieved over the last twenty years. For example, fewer young children are underweight in Mozambique (18.3% in 2005-2011, compared with 23.9% in 1990-1995) and there are not as many deaths from malnutrition-related causes. This is due partly to some reduction in poverty levels.
However, future progress is being hindered by current high food prices, which have resulted from a drop in domestic production. Like many African nations, not enough investment is going into the agricultural sector in Mozambique and there have been riots over rising prices in the last few years.
Levels of malnutrition tend to be highest in rural regions of the country, where families struggle to earn a decent income to support a varied diet. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, the head of the nutrition department at the Ministry of Health commented “many families breed chicken and goats, but they only eat meat on special occasions ... [selling] the animals to buy soap, sugar, salt, school materials and other basic goods.”
Studies suggest that children who have been underweight or stunted in childhood fail to develop to their full potential and earn lower salaries as adults than their better-fed counterparts. In Mozambique, the resulting lower productivity of many individuals could therefore amount to losses of as much as 2-3% of gross domestic product, equivalent to between 300-500 million dollars each year.
National officials are becoming more aware of the impact widespread stunting and malnutrition have on the development of the country. A plan has therefore been formed at government level to reduce chronic malnutrition in under-fives to 30% by 2015 and 20% by 2020.
But experts point out that as well as greater investment in agriculture, a commitment to improving child health services is also needed, because common illnesses such as malaria and diarrhoea affect a child’s uptake of nutrients. High rates of teenage marriage and pregnancy also have a direct impact on the health of young children. A multi-pronged approach is therefore needed if malnutrition levels in Mozambique are to be reduced significantly and within the timescales laid down by the national plan.