NAIROBI , (Xinhua)– Malnutrition in Kenya continues to pose a serious challenge to economic development efforts including the quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

In this photo released by the International Rescue Committee, Minhaj Gedi Farah is held in the arms of his mother Asiah Dagane in the International Rescue Committee (IRC) hospital in Dadaab, Kenya Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011.

The most hit sections of the population are children under the age of five and pregnant mothers. The health of this segment is critical if the country is to achieve the MDGs.

According to government estimates the country loses 30 million U.S. dollars annually as a result of malnutrition mainly through loss of labor productivity and hospitalization.

According to UNICEF there are 143 million children under the age of 5 in developing countries who are underweight for their age due malnutrition and one quarter of this live in Africa .

The United Nations’ agency also says that 178 million children under 5 are stunted globally as a result of insufficient nutrients intake.

However through the use of food fortification, which is the addition of mineral and vitamins during the processing of food, the country can make considerable gains towards a healthy population by making sure that all the necessary nutrients are accessible to all.

The most common fortified foods in Kenya are maize flour, cooking oil, sugar and salt. However the fortified variety of foods is still not accessible to the most vulnerable population.

For infants, food fortification is especially important in the weaning stages when the child moves from exclusive breast milk to solid foods. Micro nutrients required for physical and mental growth and development are most likely to miss during this period.

So children are likely to develop micro nutrient deficiencies due to lack of vitamin A, D, iron and Zinc. Pregnant women, on the other hand require plenty of Vitamin B, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and zinc to ensure the growth of the baby in the womb.

So stakeholders in the nutrition industry in Kenya are seeking to introduce fortification to the most commonly consumed products by the low income segment of the population.

According to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) Kenya Director CJ Jones the current interventions are still not adequate to eliminate incidences of malnutrition in Kenya .

“Current drive for provisions of supplements is not fulfilling government objectives to improve nutrition,” Jones told Xinhua in an interview on Saturday.

“In order to address chronic micro nutrients deficiencies which are limiting the potential of achieving the Millennium Development Goals(MDG), the government needs to include milk into the portfolio of fortified foods,” she said.

Jones added that she hopes to encourage debate on fortification of milk as the beverage is consumed across all age and income groups in the country.

“Our choice of milk is due to the fact that the cost of fortification is less than one percent of the value of the milk,” she said.

Another reason for targeting milk, she said, is that it has the nutritional requirements that the body needs. Jones said that through milk fortification, the right micro nutrients will be available to large number of people in Kenya who need it.

“We are worried about the high level of vitamin and mineral deficiencies which manifests it self through rickets, stunted growth and low immunity among Kenyan children,” the country director said.

“Lack of Vitamin A and D as well deficiencies in Zinc affects cognitive abilities of child, which can affect school grades,” she said.

Amsterdam Initiative Against Malnutrition (AIM) Coordinator Charlotte Pederson called on Kenyans to return to traditional vegetables which have high levels of micronutrients required to stamp out malnutrition.

“Kenyans seem to have reduced their consumption of the African leafy greens in favor of imported varieties and this will continue to negatively affect their nutrition,” he said.

Even though Kenya is an importer of food, the bulk of it is processed locally. It is during this processing stage that minerals and vitamins can be added in order to boost the nutritional value of the food.

Consumer Federation of Kenya Chief Executive Officer Edwin Wanjawa also urged Kenyans to embrace fortified foods in order to reduce malnutrition levels in the country.

“However even as we adopt this technology we must be cautious not to overdose on the micronutrients,” Wanjawa said.

Ministry of Health, Division of Nutrition, Deputy Head and Food Fortification officer Gladys Mugambi said that government has developed the National Food Security and Nutrition Policy and Strategy which encourages the fortification of foods including milk.

“Since milk and porridge are the main foods for children aged below 12 months, it is very important that children can have access to milk with all nutrients,” Mugambi said. She added that most of the nutrients that are needed for fortification are imported as Kenya still does not produce any locally.

GAIN’s Asia Nutrition expert Dr Rajan Sankar said that Kenya can learn from India experience in the fight against malnutrition.

“Most of the milk consumed in India is fortified as it is a very common beverage in many households,” Sankar said.

He added that India has managed to reduce the level of malnutrition which prevalent in the country through the use of fortified foods which are mostly consumed by the low income groups.

Netherlands Embassy in Kenya Agriculture counselor for Hans Wolf Netherlands Embassy in Kenya Agriculture counselor Hans Wolf called on the Kenya Bureau of Standards to develop standards for micronutrients used in the fortification industry.

“This will increase access of fortified foods in the country, especially for low income people,” Wolf said.

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