Experts Moot for Harmonization of Nutrition Indicators in the IGAD Region

Health experts from eight member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have singled out gaps in nutrition surveillance as one of the biggest reasons impeding them from tackling the high burden of malnutrition in the region.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a nutrition knowledge-sharing workshop held in Munyonyo on Wednesday, Dr. Laetitia Ouedraogo the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Regional Adviser on Nutrition and Food Safety said some countries lack data that can help them determine the nutrition challenges they face in order to devise for them best-suited solutions.

She said countries have come up with different initiatives to tackle malnutrition recently but it’s not clear how far these can go to tackle the problem at the regional level because indicators are not harmonized.  

Such malnutrition indicators as stunting, undernutrition, wasting, and overnutrition are currently measured differently in different countries and as a result, the exact picture of the problem is blurred.

Ouedraogo worries about a looming nutrition crisis in Africa citing the broken food system as the key driver which is being worsened by shocks such as climate change and conflicts. As a quick fix, she says countries need to start doing continuous surveillance and share best practices amongst themselves in order to make some strides, especially now when many are still very far from attaining the 2030 Nutrition targets.

Currently, WHO estimates show about one-quarter of countries cannot even assess their progress. In Uganda, Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, the Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health says they are embarking on conducting laboratory tests to establish how the country is doing when it comes to forms of malnutrition that are invisible such as some forms of anemia.

Once they start doing this, in addition to the data they are already collecting through annual surveys and the health information management system, Kyabayinze says they will be able to accurately determine how far the country has gone in terms of achieving nutrition targets.

Currently, figures by the Ministry of Health indicate, stunting levels have reduced from 29% of the population in 2015 to 23.4% currently. When it comes to waste, 3.6% of children are still grappling with the challenge and yet there’s a growing threat of obesity. In women, over 30% are estimated to be grappling with anemia and the figure is even higher for children estimated at about 50%.

The exact picture is however unclear, as there are nutritional tests that the country still has no capacity of doing. According to Dr. Fatumah Adan, a Senior Health and Nutrition Advisor at IGAD, they are currently in an assessment phase where they are sharing information to see how each of the member countries is doing regarding nutrition indicators in order to determine which solutions each of them urgently needs.

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