ZIMBABWE’S Health and Child Care Minister, Dr David Parirenyatwa, has exhorted the private sector to join hands with Government in investing towards improvement of health through nutrition and quality of life for the entire nation.
Government has taken the lead in the process towards nutrition enrichment at household level with the support mainly from United Nations agencies, other international and local non-governmental organisations, and traditional partners.
The ministry has, since 2013, been spearheading the National Food Fortification Programme, as an immediate measure to address micro-nutrient burden. Parirenyatwa says adequate private sector support is needed for the nutrition drive to succeed, as the companies are the major players in food fortification. Food fortification or enrichment is the process of adding micro-nutrients, essentially trace elements or vitamins, to food, which can lack particular nutrients.
“The fortification approach clearly demonstrates the public-private partnership employed to improve health, quality of life and economic development of our nation,” he said last week.
“Micro-nutrient deficiencies impair our children’s intellectual growth. A micro-nutrient deficient child has a reduction of 5-10 IQ points and has 2-5% loss in future earnings.
“Also, as a consequence of micro-nutrient deficiency, nearly 1,5 million working age adults suffer deficits in work performance.”
Parirenyatwa, who was represented by Matabeleland South provincial medical director, Dr Rudo Chikodzore, during the launch of the United Refineries cooking oil fortification programme in Bulawayo, said in a speech that increased stakeholder collaboration was needed to effectively deal with nutrition deficiency problem in the country. The initiative has been a tall order as it has faced resistance by some companies in the food processing sector, who cited lack of capacity to implement the fortification requirement saying this would increase their costs.
“What’s of great concern to us as Ministry of Health and Government is understating the consequences of micro-nutrient deficiencies, and the burden that our country currently face," said Parirenyatwa.
He applauded those companies that were already doing voluntary food fortification in line with Government directives. URL has adopted food fortification as part of its business model. It has fortified its Roil Cooking Oil with Vitamin A and D as well as its new mealie-meal products with more nutrients.
According to health studies by the ministry, women and children are the most affected by the nutritional deficiencies. For instance, Vitamin A deficiency is said to have affected a fifth (19%) of children below the age of five (6-59) months while 54% of women of child bearing age are said to suffer from iron deficiency with 26% having anaemia. Similarly, 72% of children below the age of five years are reported to be iron deficient while 31% suffer from anaemia.
“These figures are shocking and yet we have the technology and capacity to eradicate this hunger burden,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
Zimbabwe commenced the mandatory phase of food fortification, guided by the legislation gazetted the previous year. The minister said Government was aware of the industry challenges in acquiring fortificants and fortification equipment from aboard. Exemptions were allowed to those industries facing serious challenges, which were given a grace period of seven months before enforcement of the Statutory Instrument 120 of 2017, which demands mandatory fortification.
In 1994 Zimbabwe introduced mandatory salt iodisation, a move that helped eradicate goitres and iodine deficiency disorders as proof that food fortification works. “We only need to work well and close with our industry,” said Dr Parirenyatwa, adding that the URL example was a positive step in the right direction.
“If we do the same with National Foods, Ilanga, Blue Ribbon, Ocean and all other producers then we will save our population from the consequences of micro-nutrient deficiency,” he said.
While it is crucial to fortify basic food products such as mealie-meal, cooking oil and sugar, the minister stressed the need for consumer to develop healthy eating habits goods. He encouraged households to have little intake of cooking oil, fatty foods and sugars as a way of preventing non-communicable diseases. Going forward Government has said it will continue to monitor firms to ensure compliance with fortification laws.