Malnutrition in children under six months is on the increase, largely because of HIV/AIDS and inappropriate infant feeding practices, Prime Minister Sarah Kuugongelwa-Amadhila has said.
In a speech read on her behalf by former Prime Minister Nahas Angula on Wednesday, at a dinner in honour of global human rights advocate, Graca Machel, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said that malnutrition is widespread in Namibia, with one in four children under five years stunted and underweight.
Machel, who is the widow of former South African President, Nelson Mandela, was on a three-day visit to Namibia, where she highlighted the issue of malnutrition and advocated for changes in the way the country tackles the scourge.
Less than 25 percent of local children under five are exclusively breastfed, and mixed feeding with complementary foods is introduced as early as one-month-old.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said that Namibia has food insecurity, which is mainly linked to structural poverty compounded by high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and recurrent natural disasters, where cyclical drought and floods severely affect people’s livelihoods.
She added that Namibia has adopted a number of policies, plans and strategies, which are aimed at improving the nutritional status of the Namibian population, with special emphasis on putting in place well-established mechanisms, such as accountability frameworks that are tailored towards nutrition.
This was aimed at strengthening “nutrition governance”, as a critical part of eliminating malnutrition as one of the perpetual obstacles in the way of Namibia’s development.
One of the policies adopted is the Food and Nutrition Policy, which is aimed at empowering the population through the promotion of good food, health and nutritional practices, in order for Namibian households to become self-reliant in meeting their nutrition needs.
The other policy is the Strategic Plan for Nutrition, which provides a framework for interventions and activities at national, regional, district and community level, with considerable collaboration from multilateral and bilateral development agencies, relevant line ministries, civil society organisations and private institutions.
Government has also launched a National Alliance for Improved Nutrition (NAFIN) program, which is a multi-sectoral public-private partnership for improving the nutrition situation of vulnerable groups, including children, through a multi-sectoral implementation strategy process.
This process is guided by extensive consultations with stakeholders at national, regional and community level.
“Namibia is committed to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030, and to achieve the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and to address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons by 2025,” Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said.
The country’s child health and nutrition efforts have had the desired impact, with a decline in infant mortality of 19 percent, and an 18 percent decline in mortality in children under five, over a 15-year period, she added.