Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan has urged counties in arid and semi-arid areas to invest heavily in maternal and child health in order to address malnutrition that still remains a major concern in the region.
She spoke during a visit in Isiolo County while accompanied by World Food Programme (WFP) officials. She said counties should seek partnerships so as to intensify efforts for improved maternal healthcare and good nutrition among the residents.
The advocate of nutrition, mother and child health, appealed to residents — who are predominantly pastoralists — to diversify their livelihoods by engaging in both livestock keeping and crop farming for enhanced access to nutritious foods.
Access to adequate quantities of nutritious food remains a challenge to Kenyans, especially in the arid and semi-arid region, with recent statistics showing that 35.6 per cent of the total population live on less than USD1.90 a day.
Princess Sarah said nutrition plays a key role in child development and a country’s ability to prosper, adding that poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days causes irreversible damage to a child’s brain and affects performance in school.
“There is need for counties to pool resources and skills together for improved maternal and children health,” she said at Burat Ward’s Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes and fish pond demonstration site which is supported by WFP.
“The first 1,000 days of a child are very critical to life and to a person’s productivity in life and, therefore, there’s need to provide nutritious meals to them while at a young age,” she added.
Past reports show that countries that fail to invest in the well-being of women and children lose billions of dollars to lower economic productivity and higher health costs.
Malnourishment, especially among children aged five years in Isiolo, remains high with stunting and wasting at 13.8 and 16.7 per cent respectively.
With majority of the residents in the northern region unable to access safe and nutritious diets due to high poverty levels, the counties have an uphill task of achieving optimal nutrition for healthier citizens.
Met expectant mothers
Princess Sarah, who has been special adviser to WFP since 2018, also visited Kipsing Health Centre in Oldonyiro Ward where she met expectant women and mothers to find out the challenges they face.
She noted that WFP is currently ramping up efforts to assist 100 million people in more than 80 countries in bid to avert hunger occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Mohamed Kuti said his administration has partnered with an NGO, Living Goods, in training and supporting over 800 community health volunteers to address maternal healthcare issues.
He said the community health volunteers have helped reduce maternal deaths through early detection of underlying health issues during pregnant women’s ante-natal visits.
Early this month, the county launched a five-year nutrition action plan in bid to address undernutrition through enhanced access to nutritious diets.
While praising WFP for winning the 2020 Noble Peace Prize, Dr Kuti said his administration has introduced supplementation feeding programmes for pregnant women and capacity building for healthcare workers offering nutrition services in all health facilities.
He said although health facilities in Isiolo are on average 49 kilometres apart, the county is committed to ensuring more women deliver in hospitals.
Many pregnant women in far flung areas — due to long distances and poor roads — have been delivering at home under the care of traditional birth attendants.
“We are committed as a government towards reducing the malnutrition rate and we will continue ensuring our people have access to adequate nutritious foods,” said Dr Kuti.
WFP’s focus in African countries is on mortality among mothers and children, morbidity and mortality of children aged below five years.
Other interventions by the Isiolo County government towards addressing malnutrition are provision of free healthcare services and medical and nutrition commodities and supplies to hospitals.