André Redinger, founder of Millhouse International, an African manufacturer of vitamin and micronutrient blends, looks at the current state of malnutrition in South Africa. He discusses how the long-standing battle against nutrient deficiencies can be overcome.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated multidimensional poverty conditions across the continent. Disruptions in interventions against malnutrition such as school feeding schemes have put tremendous strain on households across the country.
In South Africa alone, cases of acute malnutrition have remained a crucial underlying cause for mortality in children. In fact, 27% of children in the country are stunted and therefore not likely to reach full growth and development potential due to persistent nutritional deprivation.
The situation, it seems, is only getting worse. Recently, Unicef (the United Nations Children’s Fund) announced that 1.5 million children are not receiving the life-saving treatment required to combat severe wasting in Eastern and Southern Africa. This figure accounts for nearly half of the estimated 3.6 million children that are in urgent need.
Statistics such as these present an urgent call to action to government, the private sector and even communities at large to educate, increase awareness and take action against numbers that will only increase if not addressed.
Key to achieving this is to take preventative measures against maternal and child malnutrition at all phases of the life cycle. If that fails, then treatment must fall into place.
Hope, however, does exist and there are a number of factors that governments and the private sector alike must take note of if the situation at hand is to be pivoted.
Micronutrients and vitamin blends
There is no better vehicle to provide nourishment to those who need it most than through the foods that we consume on a daily basis – staple foods. Micronutrients, though required in small quantities, have a big impact on growth and development. Fortifying foodstuff such as maize, sugar and flour is an excellent way to ensure that the population is healthier – preventing many deficiencies related to iron, vitamin D and the like.
On the continent, organisations such as Millhouse are taking action to ensure that malnutrition is prevented in the long run. The organisation does not just supply premixes for vitamin A, customised blends and sugar, it also makes sure that clients such as small, medium and large mills across Africa have the equipment and technology required to fortify correctly at a cost saving.
It is no secret that without the proper regulations and appropriate capacity in place, potential for a number of issues to arise becomes more likely. These include the potential of foods being more susceptible to contamination and other safety risks and being less likely to contain the critical vitamins and minerals and labelled or packaged incorrectly.
In cases like these, it therefore becomes crucial that improvements be made to training for the improvement of quality and auditing processes with the purposes of mitigating said issues from arising.
Initiatives such as Millhouse’s Lodestar Centre of Excellence provide a centralised knowledge hub and training network where, with the help of local experts, the local food industry as well as governments can be consulted in recommending tailored and hands-on learning opportunities with the purpose of strengthening their quality auditing process.
Food safety and analysis
Naturally, it is best practice for food producers to make sure that their vitamin and micronutrient blends have been correctly verified.
However, the continent does not have the necessary infrastructure to cater to an industry that is dynamic. This means that no centralised system exists that can efficiently analyse, validate and uphold the nutritional value of the staple foods. This can lead to potentially worrying outcomes such as time delays and ineffective testing.
To address this, Millhouse is launching the Millhouse International Biotechnology and Analytical Laboratory, housed at the world-renowned Parc Científic de Barcelona in Spain in March 2022. Designed to service the need for swift, cost-effective and trusted testing of vitamin and micronutrient blends, regulated premixes and staple foods, the lab will cater for clients across the African continent and in Europe.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact regions globally through rising levels of food insecurity, disease outbreaks and conflicts, households have needed to reduce daily food intake in an effort to save on expenses due to increased barriers to affordability and access to the correct foods.
Working together through educating and partnering, governments can ensure that, through prioritising the fortification of staple foods, prevention and ultimately avoiding further long-term physical and cognitive damage edges one step closer to being a myth of the past.
This article was originally published by Food For Mzansi.