Stunting prevention project launched in Malawi

A new project to reduce stunting is launched in Malawi where the prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years old is an alarming 45%

FIGHT STUNTING. Children in Malawi peer through holes at a WFP food distribution point in Malawai's Zomba district. Photo by Jon Hrusa/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – A new project that will tackle the problem of stunting in Malawi was launched by the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners on Jan 22, 2014. It aims to reach 66,000 mothers and children over the course of 3.5 years.

The project, which is being implemented in the Ntchisi district of Malawi’s central region, aims to reduce stunting by 5-10% and establish best practices and generate new evidence to fight stunting.

Stunting has grave implications on a child’s ability to perform in school, which leads to reducing the child’s learning potential during adulthood. The World Bank estimates that worldwide reduction in stunting can benefit countries up to 3% in GDP growth. (Read: Why you should care about stunting)

Studies have linked stunting to low economic productivity. A study on health and wages in Brazil showed that an increase in height translated to a 2.4% increase in wages. 

Malawi is among countries where the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years old is alarmingly high. According to a 2013 report by Unicef on “Improving Child Nutrition,” 47% of the country’s children under 5 years old are stunted. Stunting is measured in children below 5 years of age because the brain is already around 90% developed at that age and the effect of stunting are virtually impossible to reverse. 

Malawi has been struggling with food insecurity brought about by dry spells, high food prices, and floods. Currently the WFP is giving food assistance to 1.8 million of the population to help them get through the lean months leading up to the March harvest season. Classified as a low income country by the World Bank, Malawi has a GDP of US$4.264 billion (around $268 per capita).

Interventions

The new program aims to address stunting by focusing on 13 core nutrition interventions that include complementary feeding, management of acute malnutrition, and safe hygiene practices. Additionally a ready-to-eat product called Nutributter will be fed to all children aged 6-23 months so long as they are registered in the program.

Along with the WFP, the program is receiving support from the Malawi government, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative, World Vision, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) which is providing $10 million dollars in funds.

The program complements the SUN’s existing 1,000 Special Days Initiative that was first launched in Malawi in 2011. The initiative focuses on providing essential nutrition, health and care for children during the critical 1,000-day window of opportunity (from pregnancy to two years of age). This is the stage in the child’s life where nutritional requirements are most crucial. 

WFP representative Coco Ushiyama is excited over this new initiative, saying, “Through strong partnerships, multi-sector engagement, a strong evidence-based approach and IT solutions, we want to show the world that we can and must end stunting.” 

They hope to reach 100% of households with mothers and children less than 2 years of age through the help of community volunteers. 

Later this year the stunting prevention program is set to launch in Mozambique where stunting prevalence is 43%. – Rappler.com