Malnutrition must be addressed

Editorial

THE report highlighting the huge economic cost of child malnutrition in the country would surely raise some eyebrows.
We boast of being a country with resources galore and hectares of fertile agricultural land to boot but still cannot properly and adequately feed our children.
The report by Save the Children PNG released in June titled Short Changed:  The Human and Economic Cost of Child Under-nutrition in Papua New Guinea, was done in partnership with Frontier Economics.
It reveals that child under-nutrition in PNG had cost the economy an equivalent of K1.5 billion in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. It, however, does not mention what the future trend is likely to be. But we need to take action now to address it.
Everyone needs to be educated on the importance of food fortification, food production and livelihood if the PNG economy is to grow.
It is a good start that a national nutrition strategic action plan is being formulated to tackle the high rate of malnutrition. And it will need the political commitment from the government to drive it.
Nutrition planning involves the formulation of a nutrition policy and overall long-term planning to improve production and supply of food, ensure its equitable distribution and programmes to increase the purchasing power of people.
This may include effective land reforms, proper guidance in agriculture to help farmers produce better yields from their land, and the well-planned marketing of farm produce.
It will also need an improved healthcare system. Infections such as malaria, measles and diarrhea are prevalent in society and precipitate acute malnutrition among children and infants. Malnutrition is a silent emergency in PNG and the underlying cause of the majority of deaths of children under the age of five.
The situation seriously limits not only children’s growth outcomes but also their future learning and income-earning potential which further perpetuates the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition and poverty.
Children who suffer from malnutrition are likely to die of treatable diseases such as diarrhea and chest infections.
A child’s physical growth and mental development can become permanently impaired. And in severe cases, the child can die of malnutrition if not treated.
Malnutrition occurs when poor consumption of nutritious food threatens the healthy functioning of the body and its organs.
Symptoms include underweight, physical stunting, muscle wasting, poor ability to concentrate and increased vulnerability of children to illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea.
Malnutrition cannot be addressed by the health sector alone. It is an obligation for everyone who should allocate resources to their respective nutrition sector interventions. It is also essential to have resources to detect and treat severe malnutrition cases quickly.
A good healthcare system that provides immunisation, oral rehydration, periodic deworming, early diagnosis and proper treatment of common illnesses can also go a long way in preventing malnutrition.
People need to be educated on the nutritional quality of common foods, importance and nutritional quality of various locally available and culturally-accepted low-cost foods, the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuing to breastfeed up to two years or beyond, and the importance of immunising children and following proper sanitation daily.
Malnutrition must be addressed through a comprehensive management system as it is a serious and life-threatening condition with terrible consequences.
We have the resources to deal with this national problem. We have partners who are waiting to help us if we want them to. So before again boasting how rich and bountiful our land is in resources, let us fix our backyard properly first and ensure our children are healthy and safe.
It is the future of PNG we are talking about here.

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