Malnutrition in pregnant women on the rise amid food price crisis


By Ebenezer Chike Adjei NJOKU [email protected]

Evidence is beginning to emerge that astronomical food inflation over the last 30 months is directly linked to rising maternal malnutrition and child mortality.

This is leading  to growing concern among health experts, who warn of long-term consequences for the nation’s development and economic productivity.

Recent data indicate a troubling increase in the number of pregnant women suffering from malnutrition – a condition that poses significant risks to both mothers and their unborn children. Health officials emphasise that malnutrition during pregnancy has immediate and lasting impacts, starting from the womb.

“The implication is that we might have more pregnant women who are malnourished, and it is having a domino-effect on the children they are carrying because malnutrition does not start after the child is born; it starts with the mother who is carrying the baby,” said Awurabena Dadzie, Health and Nutrition Technical Programme Manager at World Vision Ghana.

“So children in the womb are already feeling the impact of their mothers’ malnutrition,” she added.

She was speaking during a media interaction ahead the ‘Its ENOUGH’ campaign launch against child hunger.

According to some estimates, the national stunting rate stands at 18 percent, with 12 percent classified as underweight.

Additionally, the under-five mortality rate remains high at 40 deaths per 1,000 live births – surpassing the global limit.

Alarmingly, nearly half (49 percent) of children aged 6-59 months are anaemic – with significant proportions experiencing moderate to severe levels.

The first 100 days of life, including the gestation period, are critical for a child’s development. Poor maternal nutrition can lead to underweight births, stunted growth and subsequent cognitive and economic challenges. These children are likely to face lifelong health issues and diminished economic potential, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

Experts caution that without urgent intervention, Ghana could see widespread effects within a few years. The implications are far-reaching, with potential impacts on the nation’s workforce and economic growth.

A doctor at a paediatric hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the B&FT, confirmed the hike in food prices’ effects. “It is not uncommon to see a family of six having to survive on GH¢10 a day; and with an average-size price of a ball of kenkey approaching GH¢5, you can only imagine what is happening… some lactating mothers have to cut short breastfeeding to work in order to make ends meet.”

Inflation rates for food and non-alcoholic beverages have displayed substantial volatility over the past three years. According to recent data, the sector recorded a 12.8 percent year-on-year inflation rate in December 2021. This figure soared to 59.7 percent by December 2022, marking a dramatic increase within one year.

However, there was a notable moderation in December 2023 with the inflation rate dropping to 28.7 percent . Recently, the metric further decreased to 26.8 percent, marking its lowest point in 13 months.

Despite this improvement, high inflation rates continue to pose significant challenges – impacting consumer purchasing power and highlighting ongoing economic pressures within Ghana’s food and beverage market.

Analysts have differed in their views of how food inflation should be addressed in the short-term, with some suggesting a reduction of duties on food imports.

To this end, World Vision Ghana (WVG) is committing US$3.5million over the next three years to address this escalating crisis of child hunger and malnutrition in the country.

This substantial investment is part of a comprehensive campaign aimed at reducing food insecurity and improving nutrition for vulnerable children across the country, as it aims to reach some 12.5 million children.

Laura Christina DelValle, National Director, said there is enough food to go around but a combination of factors have led to rising child malnutrition.

“There is enough to go around. Ensuring every child has access to nutritious food is not just a goal but a moral imperative. Together, we can address the factors contributing to child malnutrition and build a healthier future for the most vulnerable of our youngest generation,” she stressed.

The urgency of this initiative is further underscored by recent data showing a significant increase of food insecurity in the country.

According to the World Bank, the number of food-insecure Ghanaians surged from 560,000 in 2021 to 823,000 in 2022 – a 47 percent rise.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) further highlights that 39.4 percent of the population, or approximately 12.9 million people, were affected by moderate or severe food insecurity in 2022.

Gregory Dery, Child Protection and Advocacy Manager at World Vision, noted that malnutrition has long been a pervasive issue in the country – with high rates of poverty and stunting particularly evident in the Northern Savannah ecological zones.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reports that 50.4 percent of children in these regions live in poverty, while 33 percent suffer from stunting.

“Malnutrition underlies most children’s deaths, and has for decades,” Mr. Dery said. “The World Bank estimates current cost of the productivity loss at US$3 million per year, yet less than one percent of all aid goes to supporting children’s nutrition,” he added.

The WVG campaign is structured around four key outcomes, each designed to tackle different aspects of child hunger and malnutrition.

The NGO aims to raise global awareness about child hunger and nutrition, urging action and resource allocation at local, national and global levels. It provides essential food and cash assistance to vulnerable children and caregivers through initiatives like emergency aid programmes, Child-Friendly Spaces and Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM).

Empowering teenage girls is a key focus to disrupt intergenerational malnutrition cycles, supported by programmes such as ‘Girl Education – Community Health Workers and Timed and Targetted Counselling’. The campaign also advocates for government funding to train Community Health Workers, ensuring comprehensive nutrition services reach communities.

WVG’s campaign will engage a broad range of partners including government ministries, civil society organisations, academia, local authorities, faith-leaders and international development partners.

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