Kwashiorkor on the increase in Zimbabwe

 by STAFF EDITORS  (7/19/2004)




Further evidence of urban vulnerability in Zimbabwe has emerged with the release of a report indicating that the capital, Harare, has seen an increase in the number of kwashiorkor cases. In his health report for 2003, the city's director of health services, Dr Lovemore Mbengeranwa, noted that instances of diagnosed kwashiorkor had risen by 11.1 percent. A total of 621 cases were treated at council-run clinics, of which 97 percent were children under the age of five.


The symptoms of kwashiorkor, a nutritional disease caused by inadequate protein consumption, include a bloated stomach and spindly arms and legs, and can result in death if not treated.


"Food vulnerability in urban areas is increasing at an alarming level due to economic instability in the country," Mbengeranwa told IRIN.


Once patients have been diagnosed they are treated and rehabilitated, while affected children are added to a supplementary feeding scheme run in urban areas.




"Supplementary feeding interventions have, in the past, been targeted at rural populations, as they were viewed as the most food-insecure and vulnerable. However, it has been found that the level of food vulnerability in urban areas of Zimbabwe is increasing at an alarming rate," Mbengeranwa remarked.


Rising unemployment, a declining economy, poor harvests and the scarcity of some basic commodities have been blamed for the poor nutritional status of children. Inflation has also eroded the purchasing power of households in urban areas.


Mbengeranwa said a 2003 assessment of the nutritional status of children under six years had established that, in some instances, children in Harare were worse off than their rural counterparts.


This had led to the establishment of a feeding scheme in partnership with the NGO, Help From Germany.


The malnutrition affecting children was also affecting their parents, Mbengeranwa told IRIN. "Preliminary results of an urban vulnerability survey have demonstrated that in Harare most high-density areas had food-vulnerable people. The extent of vulnerability is worse in informal settlements like squatter camps."


Most families in Harare had adopted mechanisms to cope with their limited access to food, said Mbengeranwa. These mechanisms included reducing food quantities, combining meals and removing meat from their diets.





 Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004