Malnutrition is one of the major problems facing Africa. While Africa’s share in the world’s undernourished population has decreased from 35.5% in 1990 to 22% in 2019, this alarming rate, according to the African Union still calls for stronger efforts to improve food security and nutrition in the continent. In fact, African Union designated 2022 as the Year of Nutrition — with the theme “Strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security on the African continent: Strengthening agro-food systems, health and social protection systems for the acceleration of human, social and economic capital development.” The AU has made ending malnutrition a priority, with the inclusion of six nutrition targets to be attained by 2025 in its African Regional Nutrition Strategy (2016-2025).
The prevalence of malnutrition among adolescent girls is a serious issue. According to the African Union, while Africa is home to more than 250 million adolescents, the largest cohort of young people the world has ever seen yet, the continent sees an estimated 60 million cases of anaemia in adolescent girls each year, which costs AU member states a staggering $1.38B. No region, including Africa, is on track to meet its global targets of reducing anaemia in women and adolescent girls by 50%.
Against this backdrop, African Union has joined hands with Nutrition International, an organization that work directly with governments to build local capacity, partnering with research institutions to improve guidance, and breaking down silos between different development sectors as well as the private sector to integrate nutrition into non-nutrition platforms.
The Health, Humanitarian Affairs & Social Development (HHS) Department of the African Union Commission and Nutrition International launched “With Good Nutrition, She’ll Grow Into It”, an advocacy campaign dedicated to improving the health, wellbeing and empowerment of girls in Africa through efforts to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia. The campaign was kicked off during the High-Level Dialogue on Nutrition Financing in Maseru, Lesotho, on March 24. The launch event was attended by the African Union Nutrition Champion King Letsie III of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Sam Matekane, Prime Minister of Lesotho, and ministers and parliamentarians from various AU member states, as well as donors and other nutrition stakeholders.
According to a statement by the African Union, the two-year campaign aims to promote public awareness on the negative impacts of inadequate nutrition – especially iron-deficiency anaemia – on the health and education outcomes of adolescent girls, and galvanize the support of policymakers to prioritize investment in adolescent nutrition to scale up proven, low-cost, high-impact interventions for the prevention of iron-deficiency anaemia and improved nutrition education.
During the launch. Minata Samate Cessouma, the AU Commission’s Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, called for action advocacy for the prioritization of adolescent nutrition in AU member states, urging them to (among other things): prioritize adolescent nutrition in their programs and budgets, advocate for adolescent nutrition through the engagement of young people to reduce the prevalence of anaemia among girls, promote national policies and development plans that address iron-deficiency anaemia through multisectoral approaches, and mobilize resources for scale-up of proven low-cost, high-impact interventions for preventing iron-deficiency anaemia and improved nutrition education in adolescent girls. “Anaemia impairs cognitive functioning, compromises school performance, reduces productivity and affects current and future reproductive health,” said Samate. “This is why it’s imperative for all AU member states to make reducing it a priority, so that adolescent girls can reach their full potential, and be active contributors to strong, prosperous African economies.”
“Investments made in adolescents and in their futures over the next decade will determine the direction of the African continent, and whether it achieves the demographic dividend these young people both promise and deserve,” said Dr. Richard Pendame, Nutrition International’s Regional Director for Africa. “As such, the benefits of optimizing nutrition in this age group are enormous and demand urgent attention.”
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