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The East African : Nov 24th 2014
30 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK NOVEMBER 22-28,2014 D E VE LO PME N T Sweet potato fo≥ bette≥ child health By HALIMA ABDALLAH Special Correspondent LAST WEEK, two important events in nutrition were noted: The White House kitchen garden added the vitamin A-rich fortified orange-fleshed sweet potato to its crops. In Rome, an international nutrition conference took place. In choosing the fortified tuber, the Obama administration intended to highlight its importance in improving the nutrition and health of millions of children and women throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In an effort to boost A woman looks after her newborn in an incubator in a Nyeri Hospital. Global health partners are intensifying joint efforts to advocate investment and policy approaches to reduce preterm birth and improve health of newborns. Picture: File Govts, agencies seek ways to stem death of preterm babies Kenya and Uganda a≥e among the Af≥ican count≥ies with the highest p≥ete≥m bi≥ths at 13,300 and 12,500 ≥espectively By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent A s researchers seek effective ways to prevent or delay preterm births, more than 3,000 children die daily as a result of being born before the 37-week maturity period, according to a study published in The Lancet. The complications of pre- term births have, therefore, outranked all the other causes of under-five child mortality as the world’s number one killer of young children. Preterm birth is now the leading cause of newborn deaths globally. The other causes of under-five child mortality are diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. The report says that babies who survive an early birth often face increased risk of breathing problems, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. Moreover, direct complica- tions from preterm births accounted for 965,000 deaths during the first 28 days of life, with an additional 125,000 deaths between the ages of one month and five years. The report shows that while the rate of preterm births is increasing, the general public knows little about the prevention of preterm births and the problems and risks involved in the development of a preterm infant. Of the estimated 6.3 mil- lion deaths of children under the age of five in 2013, complications from preterm births accounted for nearly 1.1 million deaths. In Africa, some 350,000 children under-five die from complications of preterm births annually. Kenya and Uganda are among the African countries with the highest preterm births at 13,300 and 12,500 respectively. The others are Nigeria (98,300), Democratic Republic of the Congo (40,600), Ethiopia (24,400), Angola (16,000) and Sudan (13,200). Some of the highest rates of preterm death are in West Africa, particularly in the countries currently suffering the Ebola virus epidemic, notably Sierra Leone and Liberia. According to the World Health Organisation, the 350,000 worldwide mortality rate of children under-five has declined dramatically from 76 to 46 deaths per 1,000 live births over the period from 2000 to 2013. This is an annual reduction rate of 3.9 per cent. Almost half of the overall reduction is a result of the massive progress made against deaths from pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, HIV and tetanus. This is as a result of availability of vaccines, bed nets for malaria, antibiotics, antimalarial and HIV treatment. By contrast, preterm mortality rates have declined at only 2.0 per cent annually based on WHO global mortality rate for preterm births in 2000 and 2013. “This marks a turning of the tide, a transition from infections to neonatal conditions, especially those related to premature births, and this will require entirely different medical and public health approaches,” said Prof Joy Lawn of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, a member of the research team and a long-term adviser to Save the Children. “The success we’ve seen in the ongoing fight against infectious diseases demonstrates that we can also be successful if we invest in prevention and care for preterm births.” Research about why pre- Children under-five who die from complications of preterm births in Africa, annually term births occur is now under way. These unprecedented efforts, backed by $250 million in new fund- PREVENTION Risk factors linked to premature births include obesity and high blood pressure. Known preventions to reduce risk of premature birth include family planning to improve spacing and avoid pregnancy in women under 17 and over 40; reducing the number of embryos transferred as part of fertility treatment; eliminating C-sections before 39 weeks that are elective and not medically necessary. ing, involve more than 200 researchers. Global health partners are intensifying joint efforts to advocate investment and policy approaches to reduce preterm birth and improve health of newborns. For example, an interna- tional conference on Kangaroo Mother Care was held on November 17 in Rwanda. Kangaroo mother care, a method recommended by WHO for care of preterm infants, involves infants being carried, usually by the mother, with skin-to-skin contact. It is estimated that greater use of this simple technique could save as many as 450,000 preterm newborns each year. Sweet potatoes are nutritious and rich in vitamin A. Pic: File production of vitamin-rich sweet potatoes, USAid is funding efforts to provide 285,000 Ugandan farming households not only with orange sweet potato but also beans that are richer in iron, as part of the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative Feed the Future. “Through Feed the Fu- ture, we are scaling up the use of orange sweet potatoes in thousands of communities vulnerable to under nutrition and stunting,” said USAid administrator Dr Rajiv Shah. It is emerging that even among households have access to food resources that are consumed throughout the year, the foods may be relatively deficient in micronutrients leading to “hidden hunger,” which is causing ill-health, stunting, blindness and deaths. The Global Nutrition Report 2014, which profiles nutrition achievement in each of the UN member countries, reveals that almost every country suffers from serious public health risks associated with hunger, under-nutrition and obesity. The hidden hunger problem is exacerbated by vari- able food prices and poor earnings. Worse, some households subsists on one meal a day. The Feed the Future pro- gramme focuses on smallholder farmers, particularly women, and supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade. “Last year alone, we helped seven million farmers boost their harvests with new technologies, and reached 12.5 million children to tackle under-nutrition—one of the leading contributors to child death,” Dr Shah said. Sweet potato is the third most important food crop in production in seven East and Central African countries, with Uganda leading with over 2.5 million tonnes annually. It is an easy crop to grow as it requires little labour and can grow in marginal land and tolerates dry conditions. In 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored a five-year study named Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa (Sasha) to improve food security and livelihoods of poor families by exploiting the untapped potential of the sweet potato, such as its use in confectionary and animal feed. The research, which led to the orange-fleshed sweet potato, was conducted in Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda. A study by USAid found that in these communities orange sweet potato contributed to more than half of the vitamin A intakes of young children aged six months to three years. This is notable because the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, counted from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until the child is two years old, are the most critical period of growth and development.
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