Did you know that every US$1 invested in nutrition generates as much as US$138 in better health and increased productivity?
The evidence is clear: improving nutrition boosts personal health as well as economic health.
Africa has 20 of the 24 countries with stunting rates of over 40%. This includes Antonio, a little boy from Madagascar whose story amplifies the urgency of action.
The African Development Bank had financed a major irrigation project for rice and its President, Akinwumi Adesina, visited. Excitedly, several kids from the village rushed to where the delegation was, curious to see this important personality that everyone was milling around.
Adesina’s eyes were sharply focused on the kids, and as he moved closer to speak with them, one particularly caught his attention. He was sure he could not be more than 5 years old, but the child’s deep voice easily gave him away even before he said his age. Alas, he was 11 years old – stunted from malnutrition. His dream was to grow and become a medical doctor, but this would be difficult with his level of malnutrition!
Touched by this, Adesina and his wife immediately adopted Antonio and took him out of the village to a new school in the city. Good food and nutrition were provided in abundance.
“Today, he is growing up tall, healthy and is doing very well in school. Antonio’s problem was stunting: when a child is too short for their age. That problem is widespread across the continent,” Adesina said, as he recounted the story at the launch of the Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard on the sidelines of the 2019 AU Summit in Addis Ababa.
The Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard, described as a ‘game-changer’ by stakeholders, was developed to measure progress made by African Union member-states in achieving nutrition security.
“As you take a look at the Nutrition Scorecard in front of you, you will notice there’s a lot of red: which means we are not making progress. The red colour and the statistics they carry are more than numbers,” Adesina told the audience. “These colours speak: they speak of the cries, hopes and aspirations of millions of malnourished kids asking us to make the right decisions for them, to secure their future. The scorecard speaks, and if you listen very carefully you can hear the voices of these children.”
Attendees at the launch included Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, members of the diplomatic corps, health ministers from Malawi, Botswana, Kenya, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, and leading development partners.
Healthy children learn more and better, and people with adequate nutrition are more productive and can create more opportunities to break the cycles of poverty of hunger.
About 58 million children in Africa under the age of 5 years are too short for their age (stunted); about 14 million weigh too little for their height (wasted); and 10 million are overweight.
Africa already loses US$25billion per year in costs attributed to child morbidity and mortality, impaired cognitive, physical, and economic development caused by malnutrition. Yet these losses are almost entirely preventable.
The share of global Official Development Assistance (ODA) spent on nutrition is very low, and has recently declined to only 1%. Through several initiatives, the African Development Bank is pointing the way and building strong alliance of partners for Africa to achieve food and nutritional security in the next ten years.
For instance, working with Big Win Philanthropy and the Aliko Dangote Foundation, the African Development Bank last December unveilled a new Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan that aims at raising investments toward reducing stunting by 40% in African children aged under 5 by 2025.
His Majesty King Letsie III of the Kingdom of Lesotho and African Union champion for nutrition, described the scorecard as a very important tool that African leaders should use to combat nutrition on the continent. “As responsible leaders, the onus is on us to take action for the wellbeing of the African people. We need to take appropriate and decisive actions now rather than later,” he added.
The Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard is produced by the African Leaders for Nutrition Initiative (ALN), headquartered at the Bank, in collaboration with partners, including the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission, Amira Elfadil, explained that the initiative will encourage dialogue with African leaders for new financial and policy commitments on nutrition to deliver people-focused socio-economic returns.
Health experts say the most important time for good nutrition is in the 1,000 days from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to the second birthday of her child.
The Bank has proposed some potential quick-wins: The private sector should incorporate healthy and nutritious foods into the food supply chain. The public sector should double-up support for food and nutrition intervention programmes. And national governments should make access to quality and nutritious food a basic human right – protected by national constitutions.
In the words of President Adesina: “Nothing breaks our hearts more than a mother unable to calm the rumbling, hollow stomach of her hungry baby”.