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Covid-19 could reverse gains in tackling malnutrition in Africa

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Report warns that the effects of the pandemic will only make it harder for vulnerable populations to protect themselves against malnutrition

WHILE there has been significant progress in tackling malnutrition in Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic could reverse these gains, a global report released on Tuesday says.

The Global Nutrition Report (GNR), the leading independent assessment of the state of nutrition around the world, says the pandemic has exposed the weakness of food and health systems, disproportionately impacting already vulnerable populations.

“As inequalities and malnutrition continue to sweep the world and Africa, the 2020 Global Nutrition Report stresses that the need to address malnutrition in all its forms by tackling injustices in food and health systems is now more urgent than ever,” a statement issued alongside the report said.

Some progress has been made both in Africa and globally, although this remains too slow.

The report notes that the prevalence of stunting among children aged under five years has fallen from 57.6 percent in 2000 to 38.4 percent in 2016 in Ethiopia. Burundi has managed to reduce stunting levels from 64 percent to 55.9 percent over the same time frame.

“However, Africa remains the region by far the hardest hit by overlapping forms of malnutrition,” the report says.

“Of 37 countries that struggle with three forms of malnutrition – childhood stunting, anaemia in women of reproductive age and overweight among women – 27 were in Africa.”

It says malnutrition in all its forms has become the leading cause of poor health and death, and the rapid rise of diet-related chronic diseases is putting an immense strain on health systems already fighting diseases like Covid-19, Ebola or malaria.

“At a time when Covid-19 has further revealed the gaps in our food systems, we now have a unique opportunity to act in co-ordination to address them and ensure that healthy and sustainably produced food is the most accessible, affordable and desirable choice for all,” said Venkatesh Mannar, co-chair of the report and special adviser on nutrition to the Tata Cornell Agriculture & Nutrition Initiative.

To date, Africa has recorded the lowest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases out of six regions tracked by real-time data portal Worldometer, accounting for only 67 778 out of nearly 4.3 million global infections as of Tuesday.

Some 2 355 people on the continent have died from complications related to the coronavirus, out of 287 559 global fatalities.

But the global nutrition report warns that the effects of the pandemic will only make it harder for vulnerable populations to protect themselves against malnutrition.

“Malnutrition affects our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to infection, and the socio-economic impact of the pandemic could in turn drive malnutrition globally,” it says.

– African News Agency (ANA)