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Undernutrition in Ghana takes huge human and economic toll – new UN study

Child malnutrition costs Ghana more than $2 billion annually.
WFP/Nyani Quarmyne
Child malnutrition costs Ghana more than $2 billion annually.

Undernutrition in Ghana takes huge human and economic toll – new UN study

The economy of Ghana has been losing some $2.6 billion annually – or 6.4 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) – due to child undernutrition, according to a new United Nations study launched today in the country’s capital, Accra.

“In the Northern Region of Ghana, 30 per cent of children under five are stunted or chronically malnourished. This not only affects their growth but also their educational development and economic potential, and consequently the future of the country,” said Margot van der Velden, the World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa said in a press statement.

According to the report, The Cost of Hunger in Africa: the Social and Economic Impact of Child Undernutrition on Ghana’s Long-Term Development (COHA), vast amounts are being lost through increased healthcare costs, additional burdens on the education system and lower productivity by its workforce.

When children miss out on critical nutrients, including proteins, vitamins and minerals, it hinders growth while in the womb and during the first two years of life – and causes stunting, which is of particular concern.

“People affected by stunting face lifelong consequences starting in childhood, such as frequent illness, poor school performance, having to repeat classes or dropping out altogether, and low workplace productivity,” the report elaborated.

Among other findings, the COHA report revealed that 37 per cent of the adult population in Ghana suffered from stunting as children; 24 per cent of all child mortality cases there were associated with undernutrition; and child mortality associated with undernutrition had reduced the country’s workforce by 7.3 per cent.

While Ghana has made some progress in improving child nutrition over the past two decades – such as reducing chronic malnutrition or stunting from 23 to 19 per cent – the study highlighted the critical need for further progress.

The report pointed out that stunting was more than a health issue – it needs to be addressed through a multi-sectoral approach and prioritized in all development programmes, from community to national levels.

“At the African Union (AU), we believe that the realisation of Agenda 2063 [the AU’s vision and action plan for the next 50 years] and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be possible without fully harnessing the potential of all sectors of the population and this includes our children,” said Dr. Margaret Agama Nyetei, the AU Commission’s Head of Health, Nutrition and Population Division.

“The goal of eliminating stunting is key to achieving Zero Hunger, Sustainable Development Goal 2,” added Thomas Yanga, Director of the WFP Africa Office. “The losses to the economy can be averted through strategic interventions which ensure adequate nutrition for mothers and young children.”

For his part, Professor Takyiwaa Manuh, Director of the Social Development Policy Division at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) underscored, “Ensuring a generation free from malnutrition requires significant investments in nutrition strategies and interventions. There is, therefore, a need for Ghana to forge strategic partnerships with key stakeholders, particularly the private sector and non-State actors, to combat undernutrition holistically.”

The COHA report was led by the AU Commission, in partnership with African governments, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development Planning and Coordinating Agency; UNECA; and WFP. So far, studies have taken place in Egypt, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Rwanda – with Chad, Lesotho, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritania slated to be carried out.

The COHA National Implementation Team, which was responsible for collecting, processing and presenting results from Ghana, was composed of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, UN agencies, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations and international organizations concerned with eliminating child stunting. The study was launched under the auspices of the National Development Planning Commission.

The Government of Ghana, the African Development Bank, the French Development Agency, the Office of the UN Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Rockefeller Foundation, and WFP contributed financially to the realisation of this study in Ghana.