Communities in arid and semi-arid lands are most hit by insufficient food and unbalanced diet
Manuel Ntoyai @manuel_ntoyai
Despite all the pomp and glamour that is associated with the world celebrating the Day of African Child, there is little to smile about, especially for the pastoralist communities who are facing drought.
The looming crisis has already got education stakeholders on edge. “We have started getting calls from health workers and teachers to go rescue schoolchildren in far flung areas,” says Cosmas Karera, the children’s officer, Kajiado West sub county, adding that they have already picked up a three-year-old weighing just 1.1kgs from Shompole area and took her to Cara Girls Rescue centre together with her mother.
Last year alone, the children department and other stakeholders rescued more than 1,200 children in Kajiado county, who had been abandoned because of drought-related issues, but were taken to various children’s home within the county. They have now raised concerns over the status of malnutrition in the county.
United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) defines malnutrition as a state in which the body does not have enough of the required nutrients (under nutrition) or has excess of the required nutrients (overnutrition). The World Health Organisation says that under nutrition causes 45 per cent of deaths in children under five, especially in developing countries.
The health agency categorises under nutrition into four parts: wasting, stunting, underweight, and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, all of which appear in Kajiado county. Already, educational stakeholder say this menace will lead to a high rate of drop outs as school-going children are likely to either move with their parents in search of water and pasture, or be left at home under the care of a relative, who cannot afford to feed them well or at all.
“It might be worse considering the pastoralists rely on their animals. They sell the cattle to buy water and other food stuff and with the drought, we might even experience deaths. This affects education because you can’t take a hungry child to class. The parents will not prioritise school; they would rather work on getting food on the table,” says Karera.
Rebecca Parteli, the headteacher at Oloika Primary School in Kajiado West, has experienced this. “We have cases of stunted growth. When children are malnourished, their immune levels are low, making them vulnerable to diseases. When they don’t get a balanced diet, it affects their performance,” she says.
Parteli adds that they receive reports of pupils missing out on food for days. “Things are better when we have a feeding programme. Sometimes we get reports of learners having not eaten for a number of days. When they come here, we try as much as possible to interlink such cases with the right authorities.
We also try to follow up on the ones who have moved to see if they have joined a school near them. For the rest, we link with the chief’s office to locate them or simply just wait until the rains for them to come back home,” she adds.
Need for awareness
As things stand, there is need for public education not only on how to combat the issue, but also to make sure the community understands the problem facing their children.
“Once people have understood what malnutrition is all about, that will be the vital step. When they visit health institutions or when we visit them at the villages, we have a chart which indicates the condition of a person with three main colour grades: Red, Yellow and Green,” says Wilson Matampash, a community health assistant at Mosiro, Kajiado West.
Red indicates Severe Acute Malnutrition (Sam), and when a kid falls under this category, they should be referred for treatment. Yellow indicates a risk for acute malnutrition and should checked upon, which is followed up by Growth Promotion and Monitoring (Gpm). Green indicates that the child is well malnourished.
According to the county’s Standardised Monitoring Assessment on Relief and Transition (Smart) survey 2018, the status of nutrition is at the serious phase with stunting levels at 25.3 per cent and underweight prevalence at 22.5 per cent.
The survey further indicates that 11.6 per cent of the household consumed less than three food groups and about 44 per cent of them are food insecure as many did not have enough food or money to buy food.
“Apart from the children, it is important for adults, especially expectant mothers to have the right diets when pregnant as lack of it might lead to abnormalities in the unborn child or problems during birth. Currently, we are monitoring a three months baby at Mosiro, whose mother passed away during delivery,” Matampash adds, insisting on the need to create awareness in the community, but specifically teach them on the dangers of malnutrition before it becomes severe.