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Fighting Malnutrition
February 2010

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges Twaweza as the source of this document


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Malnutriti on is a major problem in Tanzania

Malnutrition is one of the greater challenges facing Tanzania. Over the past decade over 600,000 children aged below 5 years are estimated to have died as a result of inadequate nutrition. In 2010 alone, another 43,000 children will die prematurely because they are malnourished. That averages to one child dying every 12 minutes.

Malnutrition causes death, but rarely because children starve. Children die because their diets are lacking in basic nutrients needed to build strong immune systems and to stay healthy. When malnourished children fall sick with diarrhea, malaria or pneumonia they are more likely to die. Had these children been adequately nourished, their deaths could have been prevented.

The death toll attributable to malnutrition since 2000 is comparable with that of the Rwandan genocide and that of a combined Asian Tsunami and Haiti earthquake, events that shocked the world. But whereas the genocide, Tsunami and earthquake mobilized people into unprecedented action, malnutrition remains ignored and is allowed to continue to take its devastating toll.

Malnutrition hurts the economy. Farmers and other laborers, oft en women, are weakened by stunting, inadequate energy intake and anemia. Because of this they are unable to exert much effort, leading to smaller harvests and reduced labor productivity. Malnutrition also contributes to lost opportunities for economic growth as adults with stunted brain development caused by inadequate nutrition during childhood are less able to innovate and respond to new market opportunities.

Malnutrition leads to waste in public expenditure, too. In the health sector resources are unnecessarily spent on treating diseases that could have been avoided with adequate nutrition. And Tanzania’s huge investments in primary and secondary education yield less because children are not getting the basic nutrition they need during the critical first two years of life to enable healthy brain development.

Change is possible, however. In 2008 some of the world’s top economic experts considered the question “What are the best ways to advance global welfare, and particularly the welfare of developing countries”. The experts presented a list of 30 realistic proposals ordered predominantly by considerations of economic costs and benefits. Addressing malnutrition ranked highest and occupied five of the top ten recommendations.

This note argues that nutrition needs to be improved, as an expression of humanity, for economic growth, health, education and well-being in general. It demonstrates that better nutrition is achievable if two simple and affordable remedial actions are implemented: food fortification and exclusive breastfeeding.

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