Malnutrition is responsible for causing over half of all child mortalities within the Sub-Saharan African nation of Malawi.
The economy of Malawi is largely agriculturally based, and has resulted in over 90 percent of the national population living under $2 per day. The sustainability of the Malawian diet has proven highly volatile, as both natural phenomenon and human activities have resulted in a persistent track record of food insecurity
With two major food-scarcity crises occurring in the past decade, researchers have noted that the level of dietary energy supply within Malawi does not meet the level of demand for population dietary energy requirements. Additionally, agricultural practices within this region have contributed to a lack of dietary diversification and insufficiencies in the provisioning of micronutrient food resources.
The statistical rates of children experiencing the effects of malnutrition within Malawi have remained unaltered since 1992. With 46 percent of children under the age of 5 experiencing variations of growth stunts and 21 percent of children underweight, researchers have noted that these adverse defects are most commonly influenced by micronutrient deficiencies.
A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Health determined that 60 percent of children under the age of 5 and 57 percent of non-pregnant women were experiencing sub-clinical Vitamin A deficiencies. Low levels of Vitamin A are responsible for significantly weakening the immune systems of developing children and to contributing to lower life expectancy rates correlated to the contraction of major illnesses.
The leading causes of malnutrition within Malawian children commonly include inadequate access to adequate pediatric care systems, dismal sanitary infrastructure and resources, an increased regional prevalence of infectious diseases, and the malnourishment of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Efforts to improve micronutrient deficiency rates through food-based strategies have proven widely ineffective and must be redesigned to offer adequate micronutrient resources to at risk population groupings such as children under 5 and pregnant women.
Despite levels of child malnutrition remaining unacceptably high, the Malawian government has attained notable success in meeting certain child-oriented Millennium Development Goals (MDG). MDG 4 outlines the necessity for developing nations to reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds by the year 2015 and has largely focused on the development of medical and sanitary infrastructures, increasing the prevalence of field vaccination programs and the provisioning of community-based educational programs.
Realizing significant reductions in children under 5 and infant mortality rates during the past two decades, Malawi’s measurable progress in combatting malnutrition indicates the potential for the achievement of MDG 4 in the coming years. Efforts to reduce the frequency of malnutrition within Malawi have included increased sustainable immunization practices, more effective micronutrient supplementation and distribution, increased access to sanitary water resources and efforts to eradicate neonatal tetanus.
Despite the use of such development programs to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, only 61 percent of the nation’s population exercises consistent access to enhanced sanitation methods. With an estimated 25 percent of government education institutions within Malawi lacking access to sanitary water resources, it is imperative to note the dire circumstances consistently faced by many Malawian children. The nation of Malawi will continue to face significant challenges in fully realizing MDG 4, as a climate of widespread poverty, weak institutional regulation and infrastructure, and limited resources due to human conflict and competition are responsible for adversely effecting these efforts.
With one in eight children dying each year in Malawi from preventable conditions including neonatal defects, malaria and HIV-related diseases, attention to the nutritional status of Malawian children is essential. The strengthening of short-term methodologies such as dietary supplementation coupled with investments in long-term food-based strategies will allow for continued successes in reducing national malnutrition rates.
– James Miller Thornton