Up to 6.4% of the country’s GDP lost to malnutrition – UNICEF

Photos by Morgana Wingard

Ghana lost approximately 1.2 to 6.4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to malnutrition and its related side effects between 2017 and 2019, a report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Ghana has revealed.

According to the report, the primary nutritional deficiencies contributing to this economic burden are stunting, dietary iron and vitamin A deficiencies.

It added that the long-term developmental impacts of child undernutrition manifest as significant economic costs to the individual, to immediate families and communities, to the public sector and to the society at large.

“These costs of undernutrition can be broadly split into three categories of cost. Health costs borne by the individual, their families, and public healthcare system due to the treatment of malnutrition itself or those pathologies to which susceptibility and intensity are exacerbated by early-life undernutrition; education costs borne by the individuals, their families and the public education system due to the increased rate of grade repetition and drop-outs associated with child nutrition-related deficiencies in child cognitive development; and the third, being opportunity costs of lost productivity due to children not achieving their full productive potential as adults, driven by nutrition-related morbidities or premature mortality.

Combing these various costs, conservative estimates suggest that the annual economic cost of undernutrition in Ghana is around 6.4 percent of GDP,” the report said.

The report, which was detailed at a media workshop to equip journalists with the needed information on ‘nutrition and nurturing care’ by Nutrition Officer of UNICEF, Javaise Aballo, revealed that nutritional deficiencies among children resulted in productivity losses of GH¢1.7billion in 2017, equivalent to 1.2 percent of GDP.

The report further revealed that the indirect health outcomes of child and maternal malnutrition are also significant, which represents the largest risk factor contributing to mortality and morbidity in Ghana, with malnutrition contributing 24 percent of child mortality.

Maternal malnutrition was the cause of more than 1.9 million years of life lost in Ghana in 2019, which represents an economic burden of GH¢10.6 billion, or 6.4 percent of GDP.

Preventing nutrition cost

However, Mr. Aballo explained that this situation can be averted through targeting and coverage of high-impact nutrition interventions, particularly in the most vulnerable areas.

“To alleviate the significant health impacts associated with maternal and child malnutrition, the health sector must increase its investment in nutrition by GH¢79million, to cover 10 million children, three million adolescent girls and one million women with high impact nutrition-specific interventions,” he explained.

“Furthermore, there is need to invest in the solutions that work, and have high impact which include protecting, supporting and promotion of breastfeeding, growth, monitoring, promotion and counselling, provision of vitamin A supplements to children, and provision of iron folic supplements to girls and women.

The low-cost interventions requiring greater government investment – increased budgetary allocations – toward these interventions should be prioritised,” Mr. Aballo added.


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