The Malnutrition Crisis: Prioritising the Health and Well-being of Future Generations

Photo: © @UNICEF South Africa/2018/Prinsloo

Bb Dudu Maziya & Dr Edzani Mphaphuli, Grow Great Campaign

As the dust settles on the recent elections, it is time for the new administration to confront a silent catastrophe that has plagued our nation for far too long – the malnutrition crisis. The haunting statistics reveal a grim reality: over 1.5 million children in South Africa suffer from stunted growth, a reflection of the chronic lack of proper nutrition and care during their crucial early years.

Haunted by the Ghost of 1.5 Million Tintswalos that will never be

These children, robbed of their full potential, face a future marred by academic struggles, unemployment, and chronic illnesses. The staggering numbers paint a bleak picture of missed opportunities and unfulfilled dreams. The State of the Nation Address may have come and gone, but the ghost of 1.5 million lost Tintswalos continues to linger, a stark reminder of the urgent action needed to address this pressing issue. In the face of the escalating malnutrition crisis, we implore the incoming administration to place policy interventions at the forefront of their agenda. The implementation of comprehensive nutrition programs, the promotion of education and awareness campaigns, the enhancement of healthcare access, and the fostering of collaborative partnerships are all critical strides towards paving a brighter future for our children.

The maternal support grant (MSG) represents a policy intervention with profound implications for our children. By placing nutrition at the heart of their priorities, the new administration will essentially be investing in the health of future generations.

This grant is also in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which underscores the importance of good health and well-being for all. However, it’s important to note that the MSG is not merely financial assistance but an investment in our collective future. When mothers are equipped with the necessary resources, they are empowered to nourish their families effectively. As we champion for more robust policies, it is crucial to acknowledge the transformative power of this grant in mitigating malnutrition and fostering healthier, more prosperous communities.

Children who are too short for their age are likely to reach less than half of their full potential, if they are lucky. More often than not, they will face academic hurdles, as the chronic lack of healthy food during the early years of their lives means their brains and other organs didn’t receive the nutrients needed to develop properly.

Consequently, many of these stunted children will inevitably drop out of school, condemning them to a future plagued by unemployment. Additionally, being too short for their age also predisposes them to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, exacerbating their struggles as they navigate an already overburdened healthcare system, further dimming their prospects for a brighter future.

Tintswalo: An endangered species

The president’s portrayal of Tintswalo as the norm does a disservice to the reality facing many young children in South Africa. While Tintswalo represents untapped potential within our nation, the sad truth is that achieving Tintswalo-like success is often a matter of chance in our country. Success here is still too closely tied to factors like family wealth, race, neighbourhood, and access to the right people. For many ambitious children, the odds are stacked against them from the start.

Unfortunately, many potential Tintswalos do not even make it past the age of five due to malnutrition. This is a tragedy in a country that is not food insecure but rather a significant food waster, with millions of tonnes going to waste each year. Urgent action is needed before Tintswalo becomes an endangered species, at risk of hunger and malnutrition in a land abundant with resources.

Every day, we lose 30 potential Tintswalos to hunger-related causes in South Africa, totalling 10,000 young lives annually. This includes 1,000 children who directly perish from severe acute malnutrition and approximately 9,000 more under the age of five whose deaths are influenced by malnutrition. These heartbreaking statistics underscore the critical importance of prioritising nutrition as a foundational element in our quest to build a brighter future for all.

Children Left Behind as Poverty Line and Child Support Grant Fail to Align

The fact that malnutrition remains a leading cause of death among young children in South Africa is a sobering reminder of the work that still needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Every child deserves a fair chance at a healthy and fulfilling life, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that they receive the support they need to thrive. Section 28(1)(c) of the Constitution gives every child the
right to basic nutrition which is critical to ensuring they get a fair chance in life.

However, in South Africa, we are still far from levelling the playing field for every child. In a country where the food poverty line hovers at R760 per person per month, the stark reality of malnutrition and poverty intertwines to form a harrowing narrative.

This figure represents the bare minimum required for an individual to meet their daily basic food needs, yet it remains out of reach for the majority of young children in South Africa. Obviously, at R530 the child support grant falls short of this threshold, underscoring the systemic challenges faced by families struggling to provide adequate nutrition for their children. Addressing malnutrition is not just a moral imperative but a strategic necessity for achieving our collective aspirations.

While Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) no 2 explicitly addresses nutrition, its significance transcends this singular goal, permeating the fabric of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Nutrition serves as a linchpin in the pursuit of a sustainable and equitable world, underpinning key aspects of health, education, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability. As we navigate the complex landscape of global
development, it becomes increasingly clear that addressing malnutrition is not just a moral imperative but a strategic necessity for achieving our collective aspirations.

Priorities for the New Administration Post-Elections in South Africa: Elevating Children’s Nutrition

Following the recent elections in South Africa, it is crucial for the new administration to prioritise the well-being and future success of our nation’s children. A study published in The Lancet in 2008 emphasised the long-term impact of good nutrition in early life on the future success of individuals. This underscores the importance of ensuring that every child, starting from their time in the womb, receives the
necessary nutrition for healthy growth and development.

As citizens consider the parties they will support, it is essential to choose leaders who prioritise providing nutritious food to children right from the beginning. Ensuring that social grants align with the food poverty line is a critical step in enabling families to afford adequate nutrition, ultimately reducing hunger and enhancing the overall health of our children.

Early identification and intervention are key strategies in addressing malnutrition effectively. A party that implements efficient systems to identify children at risk of malnutrition and takes prompt action can prevent long-term health issues and improve children’s chances of thriving. Access to basic nutritious food should be a fundamental priority for the new administration. Identifying essential foods and ensuring their affordability is crucial in the fight against hunger. A party that focuses on making healthy food accessible to all families will contribute to building a healthier and stronger community.

A well-nourished nation is a happy and successful one, while a hungry nation faces challenges and unrest. By electing leaders who prioritise providing nutritious food to our children, we can work towards a brighter future for all. This fundamental need must be addressed collaboratively with our leaders to create a thriving and prosperous nation.

The upcoming period post-elections presents a unique opportunity for leaders to focus on the well-being of our young children. By emphasising early childhood development, ensuring access to nutritious food, and implementing sustainable solutions, we can establish a legacy of care and opportunity for all South African children. It is time to advocate for change, support the potential of every child like Tintswalo, and build a future where every child can thrive and succeed. –Health-e News

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  • Health-e News

    Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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