Seven-month-old Dery (not real name) who is diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition is currently battling for survival at the St. Ignatius Health Center in the Wa West District of the Upper West Region.
The future of little Dery and several others is in no doubt bleak as the District and the Region at large run short of supply of food supplements for malnourished children since 2018.
As a result, health authorities in the District are resorting to teaching mothers with malnourished children how to prepare locally nutritious foods to support their babies.
According to Mr Simon Asamon Awini, the Wa West District Nutrition Officer, these locally prepared foods were costly and not sustainable by families of these malnourished children due to the high level of poverty among the people.
The District has from 2014 to 2019 recorded a total of 865 cases of children with severe acute malnutrition.
Between 2016 and 2018, a total of 330 severe malnourished children had been cured in the District. Therefore, cured rate had increased from 92.2 per cent in 2016 to 100 per cent in 2018 according to the 2018 Annual Nutrition Review.
The review attributed this to the regular supply of the Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) also known as ‘plumpy nuts’ and monitoring.
Active case search for Severe Acute Malnourished (SAM) children by health personnel has since stalled due to lack of support, which is further compounded by the emergence of COVID-19.
The District, which has in the past, benefited from both government and civil society nutrition interventions, still remain the hub of children with SAM in the Region according to Mr Awini.
Poverty is endemic as majority of families living in the District cannot boast of two balanced meals a day; a situation contributing significantly to the nutrition challenge in the District.
Mr Awini said the UNICEF and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) intervention provided support for active case search for severely malnourished children in the District and referred them to health facilities for treatment.
He said the Infant and Young Child Feeding Practice intervention by the World Food Programme (WFP) also helped them to educate mothers with malnourished children on how to take care of their children.
The Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) through its Voice for Change Partnership Project (V4CP) implemented the Sustainable Nutrition For All (SN4All) intervention, which engaged in evidence based advocacy to draw the attention of policy makers to the issue of SN4All among others in the District.
Mr Awini noted that with these interventions among others, the malnutrition situation in the District was gradually improving until some especially the UNICEF and WFP interventions came to an end, thereby cutting short the supply of the food supplements, which were an integral part of the fight against malnutrition.
The impact of COVID-19
The Wa West District Nutrition Officer noted that since the emergence of COVID-19 and the stay at home directive, their community sensitization durbars and the training of mothers with malnourished children on how to prepare locally nutritious foods came to a halt.
“People even fear to come to the health facility, you can imagine what these malnourished children will be going through in their houses,” he said and prayed that the disease should not spread to the District otherwise it would be disastrous.
According to the 2020 Global Nutrition Report, Ghana is on course to addressing about four of the nutrition indicators including under five stunting, wasting, overweight and low birth weight and anemia which recorded little progress.
The country however made no progress at all in indicators such as obesity, diabetes and exclusive breast feeding and this according to Mugmin Musah, Head of Programmes, Grameen Ghana, has serious implications on the others the country made progress in.
He said for instance, the 2020 Global Nutrition Report indicated that 48 per cent of infants under six months were not exclusively breastfed; 46.4 per cent of women of reproductive age have anemia; and 16.6 per cent of all women in Ghana were obese.
According to the Report, the Upper West Region has 22 per cent stunting among children under five, 73.8 per cent of them have anemia and above 30 per cent underweight.
Importance of nutrition to COVID-19 fight
Mr Musah noted that nutrition had a huge impact on one’s ability to resist COVID-19 and should not be neglected in this key moment if government intended to win the battle against the disease.
Mr Emmanuel Wullo Wullingdool, a Development Consultant, noted that COVID-19 had affected economic activity in the Wa West District due to the closure of markets, which according to him affected the food distribution chain.
He said vitamin A supplementation, education and sensitization and weighing services were equally affected by the stay home directive, whereas school children who were treated to a hot nutritious meal at school through the School Feeding Programme missed that due to the closure of schools.
Mr Wullingdool said all these effects of COVID-19 had grave negative implications on the nutrition situation of the people in a district already saddled with poverty.
Ghana’s COVID-19 case count
Meanwhile, Ghana’s COVID-19 case count as of Thursday June 18, 2020, is currently 12,929 confirmed cases out of which there are a total of 8,395 active cases with 4,468 recoveries and 66 deaths according to the Ghana Health Service website.
The Upper West Region currently has 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 21 recoveries and no death.
Despite this, Wa West District has not yet recorded any case but the fear is that the poor nutrition situation in the District could pose precarious situations should the virus spread to the District.
The Ghana Health Service must as a matter of urgency resume regular supply of the Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food to the District since it proved efficient in curing children with severe acute malnutrition.
In these abnormal times, the use of a well-designed technology that will provide the opportunity for Community Health Nurses to provide services to the people in their homes to reduce physical contact is highly needed.
There’s the need also for a strong data on highly nutrition vulnerable families to aid a more efficient targeting of interventions as well as location specific policies responsive to the needs of the people in particular areas.
Training of more community nutrition volunteers is equally needed to complement the efforts of the few community health nurses to provide counseling services to people who need it at the community level.
More resources should be pumped in to revive interventions that proved efficient in the fight against malnutrition in the District.
The future of malnourished children in the Wa West District and beyond will continue to remain bleak if attention is not given to nutrition issues the same way as the fight against COVID-19.
It is therefore important for government to see the need to build nutrition resilient communities through the introduction of eleventh hour nutrition interventions in nutrition challenged districts such as the Wa West District to avert any possible devastative effect of COVID-19 on the people.
By Prosper K. Kuorsoh