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16.09.2005 Health

Malnutrition - A drawback to child survival in Upper West

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A GNA Feature By Iddrisu Seidu

Wa, Sept. 16, GNA - A long gray bearded old man, apparently a divine healer or witch doctor, kept a hypnotic gaze at cowries he had placed in triangular formations in a sand spread on a white piece of calico material that was turning brown after several years of use. His client, middle- aged Yuoni Adama from Jankori village in the Wa East District, had gone to consult him to find the possible cause of the frequent illness and slow growth of his three-year old son, after all herbal preparations to cure him had not worked

After muttering some few sentences and making doodles on the sand, he pronounced his prophetic therapy. " The spirit of the boy's deceased grandfather wants the boy to be named after him and that should be preceded by sacrificing a red cockerel for their ancestors". When the demands had been met and the boy's multitude of ailments continued to show in his physical appearance, Adama decided to send his son to the hospital as the last resort. There, he was diagnosed to be suffering from various disorders relating to malnutrition. Malnutrition is a silent killer of children in three the Northern regions, especially in the Upper West where 55 per cent of all death among children are usually attributed to it - the highest in the country.

According to statistics released at a recent workshop on Food and Nutrition Security, organized by the University of Development Studies (UDS), 13,000 children in the Upper West Region would die through malnutrition in five years time if no serious efforts were made to address the problem.

The statistics indicate that 65 per cent of the people in the Region is vitamin 'A' deficient leading to 11 per cent Hospital attendance rate and 35 per cent child deaths.

It has been estimated that by eliminating this problem, the Region could save 14 million dollars while families would save three million dollars in their health bills.

Professor Saa Ditto, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the UDS, who conducted the Research, said Iodine Deficiency Disorders in mothers accounted for three per cent of children becoming cretins, 10 per cent being mentally retarded children and 87 per cent with mild to moderate intellectual disability.

According to him, 56 per cent of people in the Region were known to be iodine deficient.

Professor Ditto noted that if each district in the Region were to invest one dollar on the nutrition of every child, they stood to gain 20 dollars from each child in the future.

Unfortunately, policy makers have for long not seen it appropriate to appreciate the central role of nutrition security in their development agenda.

Brain and brawn are necessary for the development of the country and these can only be acquired through good nutrition and not the intake of large quantities of foodstuffs with less nutritional value. During the "Hunger Season" in the North, most subsistence farmers sell stocks of foodstuffs like rice, beans, soya beans, livestock and poultry products like eggs to buy sorghum due to their ignorance about the nutritional value of foods.

If the people are well nourished, there is every indication that their productivity will increase and consequently their incomes and the over all development of the nation.

In the Nadowli District, a study undertaken for World Vision by Professor Ditto on its School Feeding programme in the area, showed that the organization's provision of one meal a day for the School children has resulted in the retention of the girl-child in school and an improvement in the academic standards of the children.

The Upper West Regional Minister, Mr Ambrose Dery has never lost any opportunity to remind parents in the Region of the necessity to give their children meat products to improve their nutritional status. It has been observed that in most parts of the Region, the men ate the best part of the meat and reserved the bones for the children some as young as three years and their mothers to crack. A diet with eggs is considered a luxury meant for the rich segment of the society, though they are cheaper than meat in their communities.

As a nation yearning for development, if Ghanaians do not want to see the rural folks resorting to the services of witch doctors, divine healers, quack herbalists and native doctors for diagnoses on ailments that are purely attributed to malnutrition, then efforts at ensuring food security must encompass nutrition security.

These should be seen as inseparable Siamese twins and placed at the centre of the country's development interventions if the war on under-development is to be won. The tendency to promote export crops to the disadvantage of food crops also needs a serious review.

District Assemblies in the three Northern Regions in particular should from now begin to see Nutrition Security as an important tool for development and make it a priority in their development plans. They should support the Nutrition Division of the Ministry of Health under their jurisdiction to undertake educational programmes that should sensitise parents on the various foodstuffs whose intake can promote physical and intellectual growth. 16 Sept. 05

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