Analytical summary - Food safety and nutrition
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The Government of Malawi, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development, implemented farm input subsidy programmes for the fifth time in the 2009–2010 growing season. The programmes mainly administered maize seed and fertilizer for maize and legume seeds in order to improve crop productivity and hence increase food security at both household and national levels. The Ministry of Agriculture has developed an agricultural sector-wide approach to be implemented during 2008–2013. This approach aims to improve food security and increase productivity of food and cash crops.
The food export trade has been limited in order to meet the domestic market first before food can be exported. Owing to increased food production in the past 5 years, food imports, especially maize, have been insignificant. However, some food items have been imported to complement domestic production.
Malawi has laws and regulations relating to food safety and hygiene. In 2008, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with other stakeholders, reviewed some of these laws and regulations to ensure that they adequately cover the issues of food safety and hygiene. These legislations are scattered and need to be harmonized so that the country has one food law.
The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture (Veterinary Department) and the Malawi Bureau of Standards are the major players in food control implementation, including the collection and testing of food samples gathered from the industry and markets, including imported food products. This also involves monitoring micronutrient levels such as salt, sugar and flour in some foods and food products. However, there is a need to strengthen capacity in the districts.
Nutrition extension and advisory services are also available at all levels. At the national level, the Nutrition Unit provides advisory as well as extension services. District nutritionists and nutrition focal persons have been deployed to provide extension and advisory services at the district level. Health surveillance assistants provide these services at community level. There are many forums that facilitate public education and participation in food safety and hygiene, such as the child health days that are organized twice yearly. Print and electronic media also provide an avenue to educate the public on nutritional issues.
Nutrition interventions have been implemented as vertical programmes. However, nutrition is a multidisciplinary issue cutting across many sectors including health, agriculture, water and sanitation, social welfare, education, and women and children. As such, it needs to be addressed through a coordinated multisectoral approach. Thus, the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the Office of the President and Cabinet has coordinated the development of the National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan 2007–2012 aimed at integrating and mainstreaming nutrition into sector plans. This Plan provides the framework and context within which sectoral and other strategic plans and budgets should be formulated, monitored and coordinated.
The National micronutrient survey 2001 estimated that 10% of Malawian women were underweight, with a body mass index less than 18.5. The survey also found that 57% of women of childbearing age were vitamin A deficient and 47% of pregnant women were anaemic. Undernutrition in women of childbearing age is a key contributor to nutrition disorders in newborn babies.
According to the Demographic and health survey 2010, 13% of children aged aged under 5 years in Malawi were underweight. In addition, 47% of children aged under 5 years were stunted and 4% were wasted. About 60% of deaths among children under 5 years of age occur within the first year of life and undernutrition is the leading cause. Past programmes in Malawi focused mainly on treatment of cases of severe malnutrition through the health system. Currently, Government programmes have increased attention to children through the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding of children aged 0–6 months; vitamin A supplementation for children aged 6–59 months and deworming targeting children aged 5–59 months.
The Government, in partnership with stakeholders such as the World Food Programme, has launched a schools feeding programme in all public primary schools with a view to promoting nutrition in the school age group and addressing Millennium Development Goal 2 on education. The provision of a supplementary meal to primary-school children has increased enrolment, school attendance and retention.
The National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan 2007–2012 was developed to address nutritional disorders. At the sectoral level, nutrition has been integrated and mainstreamed into the:
- Agricultural Development Programme 2008
- Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy 2008
- Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses 2006
- Reproductive health services
- Maternal and neonatal services
- Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV
- National Education Sector Programme 2009.
The implementation of these and other policies and programmes has faced challenges including:
- inadequate institutional capacity at community and household levels
- lack of human and financial resources
- implementing vertical, uncoordinated and unfocused high-impact interventions.
Malnutrition remains a major public health problem in Malawi and has shown no significant change over the years. The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with various partners, implements various interventions aimed at preventing, controlling and treating malnutrition through integration of nutrition services in the clinical and preventive health care delivery system.
To achieve the above aim, the Ministry of Health is focusing on the following strategies:
- growth monitoring and promotion;
- promotion, protection and support for appropriate maternal, infant and young child-feeding practices;
- promotion of adequate intake of micronutrients through dietary diversification and modification;
- micronutrient supplementation with vitamin A and iron;
- food fortification with iodine, vitamin A and other micronutrients;
- prevention and treatment of moderate and severe malnutrition (supplementary and therapeutic feeding);
- nutrition education and counselling;
- nutrition, care, support and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients.
- ↑ National micronutrient survey 2001. Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, 2001
- ↑ Malawi demographic and health survey 2010 (pdf 3.85Mb). Zomba, National Statistical Office and Calverton, Maryland, ICF Macro, 2011
- ↑ Monitoring the situation of children and women. Malawi multiple indicator cluster survey (MICS) 2006. Preliminary report. Zomba, National Statistics Office and Lilongwe, United Nations Children’s Fund, 2007