Nutrition crisis looms: More than 2.9m schoolchildren missed in-school meals – UNICEF, WFP report


The reopening of schools across the world was greeted with mixed feelings as school owners applauded governments for bringing them back to business, while some parents and concerned individuals believe it is a wrong move.

In Ghana, many individuals have spoken against the act and called for closure of schools across the country, following reports that more than 100 schoolchildren have tested positive for the disease in 2021 – an alarming figure experts say, as compared to 2020’s 93.

The issue of in-school meals (also known as the School Feeding Programme in Ghana) has also been an area of concern for less privileged parents, since their children depend heavily on it.

A new report, according to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), reveals that more than 39 billion in-school meals have been missed globally since start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to school closures,

Situation in Ghana

In Ghana, data provided by the Ghana School Feeding Programme, under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, show that while government provided meals for JHS 3 and SHS 3 students under the government of Ghana COVID-19 response plan as they returned to school to prepare and write their final exams, more than 2.9 million children who were entitled to school meals missed out for up to ten months.

For many vulnerable children, this daily meal is an important part of getting access to sufficient calories and helping them to concentrate and learn in school. The absence of these meals therefore poses a threat to the overall well-being and development of many vulnerable children.

Data from UNICEF reveal that approximately three million adolescent girls aged between 10 and 19 years – who were already experiencing high rates of anaemia prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ghana – were not able to access their weekly iron-folic acid supplementation, leading to a potential roll-back of recent progress made on reducing anaemia rates among girls.

The report stated that during the pandemic there has been a 30 percent overall reduction in the coverage of essential nutrition services – including school feeding, micronutrient supplementation, and nutrition promotion programmes – in low- and middle-income countries, as well as programmes for the treatment of severe malnutrition in children.

According to UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, school meals are not only vital in ensuring children’s nutrition, growth and development, they also provide a strong incentive for children to go to school– especially girls.

She noted that the longer children are out of school, the greater the risk that they will drop out of education altogether. “Girls face the added risk of forced transactional sex or early marriage. The worst-hit areas during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa saw rising food insecurity in countries already facing high levels of malnutrition.

“This same trend has already been seen in many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”

She said that since the start of the pandemic, UNICEF has supported national governments to maintain the continuity of nutrition services for school-age children and adolescents.

Henrietta Fore revealed that: “In 2020, nearly 25 million school-age children and adolescents benefitted from programmes for the prevention of anaemia. Tailored to context, most of these programmes combined nutrition education and counselling, supplementation with iron and other essential micronutrients and deworming prophylaxis.”

Where schools are still closed, UNICEF and WFP are urging governments to prioritise the health, food and nutritional needs of children through comprehensive, high-quality school feeding programmes.

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