Africa’s health depends on improved nutrition

Africa’s health depends on improved nutrition

A profound shift from communicable to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is under way in many parts of the African Region. Globally, NCDs are estimated to kill 38 million people each year and they threaten progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals and influence the post-2015 development agenda.

The four main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.

The trend towards a unhealthy diet rich in saturated fat, sugar and salt and poor in fruit and vegetables means that children in sub-Saharan Africa are overweight but malnourished because they are receiving more than enough calories but not enough necessary nutrients to grow into healthy adults.

Malnutrition – including undernutrition and nutritional deficiencies – are still major causes of death and disease, especially among vulnerable and socially disadvantaged people like women and children less than five years of age.

To help address these challenges, Uganda recently hosted the Regional Meeting on Accelerating Nutrition Improvements (ANI) in Africa. ANI aims to strengthen nutrition surveillance and scale up activities that will provide indirect benefit to 66 million women of reproductive age and 46 million children less than five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa.

Opening the meeting, Uganda’s Director General of Health Services Dr Jane Ruth Aceng underscored the centrality of nutrition in health care delivery noting that "nutrition is a social and economic determinant of health that must be always be prioritized".

Dr Mercy Chikoko, ANI coordinator at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, highlighted that all stakeholders need to be accountable for framing policies and implementing programmes that will effectively reduce preventable risks to health. Evaluation, monitoring and surveillance are essential components of such actions.

The WHO Representative for Uganda, Dr Wondimagegnehu Alemu commended Uganda for tackling nutrition at the highest level and for prioritizing nutrition. “Malnutrition is a public health concern in sub-Saharan Africa that calls for urgent actions and interventions such as ANI”, he said.

Echoing the same sentiments, Dr Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at WHO/HQ, appreciated the concerted efforts of the different countries to improve nutrition. He highlighted the burden of undernutrition in counties and appreciated Africa for taking the initiative to address the problems.

Overall, the delegates emphasized the need for capacity building in districts, province or regions to be able to assess, analyze and use information for decision-making, planning and implementation of nutrition programs. The delegates were nutrition experts from WHO and governments of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Senegal, Tanzania, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.

Dietary habits are often rooted in local and regional traditions. National strategies need to be culturally appropriate and be able to challenge cultural influences and to respond to changes over time. Dietary recommendations include the following:

  • achieve energy balance and a healthy weight
  • limit energy intake from total fats and shift fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and towards the elimination of trans-fatty acids
  • increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and legumes, whole grains and nuts
  • limit the intake of free sugars
  • limit salt (sodium) consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized.

For implementing the ANI project, WHO is closely working with partner agencies, including UN agencies, Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and undernutrition (REACH), Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN), USAID, and various nongovernmental organizations and efforts are supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development of the Government of Canada (DFATD).

For more information, please contact:

Technical contacts:
Dr Mercy Chikoko, Tel: +472 413 9380; Email: chikokom [at] 
Dr Pricilla Ravonimanantsoa, Tel: +256031335555; Email: ravonimanantsoap [at]

Media contacts:
Dr Cory Couillard, Tel: +472 413 9995; Email: couillardc [at] 

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