THE twin challenges of malnutrition and stunting call for urgent interventions as they are costing the government about 7, 2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) which translates to losses of more than M1, 9 billion annually.
This was revealed by His Majesty King Letsie III at the recent Early Childhood Nutrition in Southern Africa forum that was held in Thaba-Bosiu.
His Majesty said studies had shown that governments and countries could save huge amounts of money by making significant investments in nutrition initiatives to tackle malnutrition and stunting.
“According to the Cost of Hunger in Africa report on Lesotho, we are losing close to 7, 2 percent of our GDP because of reduced productivity brought about by malnutrition,” King Letsie III told delegates drawn from different countries in the southern African region.
“In monetary terms, Lesotho is losing M 1.9 billion a year. The Cost of Hunger in Africa study estimates that Lesotho could save M2, 86 billion by the year 2025 if the prevalence of underweight children was reduced to 5 percent and stunting reduced from one third to 10 percent (in children).
“As responsible leaders, we can no longer afford to ignore how underinvestment in nutrition is seriously crippling our chances of attaining highly economic growth and development.
“With this background and with the context of these startling and frightening figures, my message to all the leadership Lesotho and the continent is short and simple. The time has come to act and do the right thing. Investing in nutrition is a moral and economic imperative.”
The King said that the high-level forum was convened to advocate for urgent interventions and catalyse urgent action aimed at improving nutrition, particularly early childhood nutrition.
He said that it was common knowledge that focus and attention should be right at the beginning of a child’s life, adding that research shows that appropriate and proper nutrition investment in the first 1000 days of life was crucial if child stunting was to be reduced to enable children to reach their potential in terms of growth.
“We know that appropriate interventions at the early stage maximise growth and development potential of our children, increase their chances of completing their schooling. And we know that these (interventions) will contribute to the development of productive individuals and citizens who can make meaningful contributions to the economic development of their respective communities and countries.
“There is no doubt that this is an investment that we must make if we want to build robust human capital that we can rely on to deliver the illusive promises of economic development and prosperity.”
King Letsie III said that failure to take appropriate action could only negatively affect the ability to develop the required human capital.
“The impact of child stunting is long lasting and largely irreversible. Stunted children cannot fully develop their cognitive and physical potential. They are more likely to suffer from disease and will earn only a fraction of what their healthier peers will earn.”
King Letsie III underscored the need for collaboration between governments and the private sector to invest more in fighting malnutrition and stunting in children.
Speaking at the event, the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said a third of children under the age of five and close to half the adult population in Lesotho either suffer from stunting or have suffered from the condition as children.
“This (malnutrition and stunting) presents a serious constraint to the country’s development trajectory both due to the immediate costs on the health system and, in the long-term, from lost human productivity and its contribution to growth. The annual cost of child malnutrition in Lesotho is an estimated M 1, 9 billion (155 million USD) which is the equivalent of 7 percent of the country’s GDP,” Dr Thabane said.
Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki said that it was the government aim to ensure that every citizen is productive and contributes to economic growth.
Mr Moleleki said it was therefore important to invest in children and ensure that they reach their growth and development potential so that they become productive citizens who earn well and contribute to the economy.
“Our government recognises the significance of addressing child stunting in a multi-dimensional manner and is committed towards taking action,” Mr Moleleki said.
He said that Lesotho has already developed a large number of nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive policies that address the causes of child malnutrition, the most recent being the National Food and Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan that outlines the interventions and the cost of addressing child stunting in Lesotho.