Uganda introduces diet supplementation program to fight malnutrition in children

Dr. Jane Aceng, the Director General of Health Services in Uganda’s ministry of Health Dr Jane Aceng

Dr. Jane Aceng, the Director General of Health Services in Uganda’s ministry of Health Dr Jane Aceng

Faced with high prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies such as Anemia estimated to be as high as 63.8% among children, the Ugandan government is piloting a new program aimed at addressing these deficiencies in children between 6-23 months of age in the East African state.

The “Home food fortification using Vitamin and Mineral Powders” program will complement other on-going nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive efforts such as Vitamin A supplementation, Therapeutic zinc supplementation as a part of diarrhea management, Deworming, Integrated management of acute malnutrition, industrial food fortification (wheat flour, maize flour and edible oil), Salt iodization program, environmental health and the Malaria control programs among others.

Speaking at the launch of the Program which is jointly implemented by the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF and Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), a USAID funded project, the Director General of Health Services in Uganda’s ministry of Health Dr Jane Aceng said evidence-based cost effective intervention is a reliable way to address anaemia and micronutrient deficiencies in children who are on complementary feeding.

“The second goal in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030), calls for the need to end hunger, achievement of food security and improved nutrition and promotion of sustainable agriculture. There is need for synergies in collaboration and commitment from stake holders to which the Ugandan government is committed,” she urged.

A recent Ministry of Health report indicated that many Ugandans do not get adequate vitamins and minerals from the food they eat every day. Their diet lacks diversity and is majorly plant based consisting of staple foods such as plantains (bananas), starchy roots, and grains.

“These staples generally lack the necessary energy and micronutrient density required for proper growth and development. Iron, Vitamin A, Folic acid, Iodine, calcium, B-vitamins and zinc are the commonest mineral and vitamin deficiencies affecting mostly children and women of reproductive age (15-49 years),” the report added.

“Anaemia and Micronutrient deficiencies have many adverse effects on human health which are not all clinically evident. Even moderate levels of deficiency can have detrimental effects on human function like delay in attainment of development milestones, and delayed cognitive development that results in mental retardation, poor learning ability and low IQ,” Dr Aceng said.

She said that micronutrient deficiencies also have profound implications for economic development and productivity in terms of the potentially huge public health costs and the loss of human capital.

Michael Dunford, the Country Representative of World Food Programme said that the UN food agency is committed to the continued support of this programme in Uganda after the initial distribution in the Eastern part of the country received overwhelming positive response from the families.

SPRING/USAID project, Chief of Party Manohar Shenoy, said that Namutumba District will be piloting two distribution arms through the community by the Village Health Team members and the Health Facility – based distribution. “In Namutumba District, 50,000 children will benefit from the initiative. This will inform Government on the cost effectiveness and efficiency of the different distribution approaches,” he added.

“This is an opportunity to ensure that families in Uganda prioritize improving the quality of complimentary feeding with the locally available foods. Through this initiative, UNICEF will be supporting over 150,000 children across the 5 districts of Kabale , Kanungu, Ibanda, Pader and Nebbi as part of the multi-sectoral community based nutrition program being implemented in these districts. We are leveraging our successful experience and partnership with the Government and Local Governments to roll out this program ” Dr. Abiud Omwega, the Nutrition Manager UNICEF said.

The programme is being implemented in seven other districts including Kabale, Ibanda, Kanungu, Nebbi, Pader, Amuria, Katakwi and Namutumba.