A newly published government report in Uganda – ‘The Cost of Hunger in Africa’ – estimates that the country loses nearly 900 million dollars annually because of hunger and malnourishment. Conducted with the support of a number of bodies, such as the African Union Commission and the UN’s World Food Programme, the study takes as its main basis 2009 child mortality figures linked to under-nutrition. These deaths reduce Uganda’s potential labour force by nearly 4% and are estimated to lose the economy more than 943 million working hours.
Productivity is also affected when children fall sick with illnesses such as diarrhoea, anaemia and other respiratory infections. Malnutrition affects a child’s ability to fight off disease, so they are more prone to falling ill. The cost of medical treatment alone for key illnesses is estimated at more than 250 million dollars.
In addition, the report’s authors looked at the cost of poor educational achievement associated with stunting, which affects a child’s ability to learn. The study estimated that around 7% of children were repeating school years in Uganda because they were not reaching the necessary levels of attainment to move up to the next grade. And with one in every three children affected by stunting, it’s not surprising that children often repeat more than just one school year.
With the publication of the report and as northeastern parts of the country struggle with food shortages, nutrition experts have called for a scaling-up of schemes which provide children with fortified foods, such as powders which contain micronutrients. Others have said more investment is needed to boost agriculture and in programmes which promote a better understanding about food variety. Extra resources to explain the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months would also improve nutrition among the nation’s children.
IRIN quotes the Ugandan prime minister’s reaction to the new report. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi said the country could “no longer afford to have high prevalence rates of under-nutrition”. Mr Mbabazi felt that the findings provided more than adequate justification for “scaling-up nutrition interventions and ensuring the availability of food”. He promised that the report would be used as a guide for future nutrition policies to “prevent unnecessary losses of human and economic potential”.