Malnutrition is still prevalent among children under five years in parts of the Upper West Region (UWR). Taboos, such as preventing children from eating eggs, and practices under which the best part of the food and meat are apportioned to the head of families are some of the causes of this problem.
According to the 2014 Ghana Demographic Health Statistics (GDHS), the region’s population is 774,261, with 113,876 representing children under five years, constituting about 20 per cent. Out of this figure, more than a quarter of children under five years old experience severe acute malnutrition.
The region, which is the youngest and was carved out of the then Upper Region in 1983, is diversified when it comes to ethnic composition, mainly the Dagaatis, Walas and Sissalas. It is situated in the North-Western corner of the country and endowed with three major rivers, namely the Black Volta, Kulpong and Sissili. It covers an area representing 12.7 per cent of the country’s total land area. It has industries and also serves as the trade and tourism gateway to Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Northern Nigeria.
Main economic activity
Farming is the main economic activity, with the availability of fertile lands, water or rivers and wild games determining their settlements. Crops grown include maize, sorghum, soya beans, yam, guinea corn, millet, rice, groundnut, beans, dawadawa, moringa, cashew, mango and other vegetables, with a vegetation suited for abundant livestock such as cows, sheep, guinea fowls, fowls and goats.
It is, therefore, worrying that a region richly endowed with all these resources continues to experience poverty and malnutrition.
At an annual nutrition review and advocacy conference organised by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) in Wa last Friday it was revealed that the region was rated the second highest undernourished area in the country. The two-day conference was on the theme: “Combating Severe Acute Malnutrition in UWR, Successes, Challenges and Way Forward.”
The conference revealed that malnutrition of children under five years had transcended health proportion and had become a developmental issue.
Opening the conference, the UWR Director of Health Services (DHS), Dr Winfred Ofosu, recommended a concerted effort to eliminate it.
He called for the eradication of such taboos, beliefs and practices which go to deny the child of nutritional meals. He wondered why with such nutritious crops and animal products, malnutrition should continue to plague children.
“Stunting has serious consequences in the life of a growing child, both short term and long term. In the short term, stunting can affect cognitive, motor and language development while in, long term, it can be responsible for reduced learning capacity, poor school performance, reduced adult stature and reproductive health, as well as eventually unachieved potentials,” he said.
Multiple Indicator Cluster
Available statistics from the Multiple Indicator Cluster (MIC) survey in the region from 2006 to 2011 revealed that open defecation by adults has only decreased from 78.7 per cent to 71.1 per cent, constituting an improvement of 7.6 per cent. Households with improved toilet facilities, regrettably, only increased from 17.3 per cent to 24.3 per cent, representing seven per cent.
To compound all these, the UWR DHS said, the region had a challenge of food insecurity. This is aggravated by the tendency of the heads of households sending their food produce down south for economic purposes.
From statistics, he pointed out that 76.3 per cent of households were food secured, 22.3 per cent on the border line while 1.4 per cent were severely food insecure, thus a total of 23.7 per cent of households suffered from total food insecurity. Districts affected are Wa-West, which is severely food insecure, with Jirapa and Wa-East being on the border line of becoming severely food insecure and Lambussie/Karni as mildly food insecure.
As a way forward, Dr Ofosu advocated intense education on exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding, eradication of outmoded taboos, cultural practices and beliefs which have been held onto over the years as a means to combat these challenges. He advocated the enforcement of the by-laws on the provision of household toilets. Hand washing, he noted, was another issue which should be encouraged.
The UWR Environmental Health Director, Mr Dominic Tugpiel, suggested that any adult male ready for marriage should provide a household toilet in his compound.
In a welcome address, a former Wa Municipal Director of Health Services, Mrs Beatrice Kunfah, emphasised the need to work together to promote good nutritional practices and discourage inappropriate ones “since the future is in the hands of these little children.”