By Sofia Mapuranga
MHONDORO — Mashonaland West province has the highest number of underweight and malnourished children under the age of five, an official with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has said.
Speaking at the launch of the World Breastfeeding Week in Mhondoro recently, District Medical Officer for Chegutu Tonderai Nhende said one in every three children in Zimbabwe was stunted, but the situation was worse in Mashonaland West province.
He said an overview of the breast feeding practices in the province revealed that only 10,9% of infants were being exclusively breastfed, while 9,3% of children aged between 6 and 23 months received a minimum acceptable diet.
“Stunting and being underweight begin prior to the age of six months and peak at 24 months, to which there is little recovery thereafter,” said Nhende.
“Children living in the rural areas were more likely to be stunted and underweight than their urban counterparts in the urban areas.”
According to the 2010/11 Demographic Health Survey, over a third of Zimbabwe’s children under the age of five were chronically malnourished and consequently stunted. The survey noted that, an estimated 15 000 of them were at the risk of dying from the condition.
Malnourished children, said Nhende, “were more susceptible to diseases, suffer cognitive impairment, have poor educational outcomes and have reduced economic productivity as adults.”
Speaking at the same event, deputy Minister of Health and Child Welfare Dr Douglas Mombeshora said his ministry was in the process of finalising a policy on infant feeding and nutrition.
“We are in the process of developing a National Behaviour Change Communication Strategy to address the negative infant and young child feeding perceptions within the communities.”
Mombeshora said they were also concluding a report on the Infant and Young Child Feeding Programme Review for the past 20 years.
“Findings from this review will inform the country on the reasons for sub-optimal infant and young child feeding practices from a programmatic point of view,” he said.
This year’s breastfeeding week commemorations were held under the theme Understanding the past, planning for the future; celebrating 10 years of WHO/ UNICEF’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.