More than 50,000children in the North region are taking micronutrients add-ons with their food in a drive to combat rampant chronic malnutrition and anemia.
Since January, the ministry of public health and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) say they have distributed 172,859 sachets of the nutritious powder codenamed VitaMin to children between the ages of 6 and 23 months in the region.
About 40.2 percent of children in the North suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunted growth while 68.2 percent of six-to-nine-month-olds are anemic, according to ministry of health estimates.
Public health problem
In spite of progress in other development indicators, malnutrition remains a national embarrassment. It accounts for a third of all children who die in the country before turning five and produces health problems that can last a lifetime.
The most recent in-depth health survey was conducted in the country in 2011. It showed that about one in three children nationwide suffer from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition while a staggering 60.3 percent are anemic.
“This is a national health problem,” said Jeanne Edjegue, a UNICEF nutritionist. “Let us say it is an emergency.”
MALNUTRITION IN CAMEROON
The nutrition challenge
Poor eating habits are behind the country’s malnutrition problem. Only 20 percent of children receive exclusive breastmilk during their first six months while older children barely receiving enough food complements once weaned.
Even though poorer northern regions seem worst hit, malnutrition affects children in urban as well as rural communities from north to south, according to ministry of health data.
Major nutrient deficiencies concern minerals and a lot of vitamins. A sachet of VitaMin has Vitamins A, B, E, C, B1, B2, B6, B12 and iron, zinc, selenium and other minerals.
Turning the tide
Four health districts in the North are experimenting VitaMin and officials hope to use results from there to guide them in expanding the initiative to other hard-hit parts of the country.
It is running side by side with the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding among younger children under the age of six months, as well as tackling other health issues like malaria and diarrhea that worsen malnutrition.
The project is funded by the Italian National Committee for more than $1 million (CFA 500 million, if one dollar is calculated at CFA500).
“The project has been well received,” says Edjegue.
Mothers have testified that their children are happier, stronger, more alert, grow better and have more energy and appetite after only several weeks of VitaMin.