MOAMBA, MOZAMBIQUE -- Tina Sergio is 11 months old but looks half that age. Fragile, malnourished and battling constant diarrhea, she was taken by her mother to a health center in the southern Mozambican village of Moamba, about an hour's drive from the capital, Maputo. Her condition was so severe that she was immediately admitted to hospital.
"I feed her maize mash at home because that's all I can afford," says her 21-year-old mother Alcinda Armaral. "All we have is what we grow on our plot - maize, sweet potato and cassava. My husband works in the mines in South Africa but he doesn't send much money home."
Tina was born malnourished because her mother was herself malnourished during pregnancy. Both are HIV positive. Nor is her debilitating condition unique. At an alarming 44 percent, chronic malnutrition levels in Mozambique are among the highest in Africa.
Now, the World Food Programme and other United Nations agencies have joined the Mozambican government in developing a new, multi-sectoral action plan to tackle chronic malnutrition, recognized as the leading problem in the nation. The aim: to halve chronic malnutrition here by the year 2020.
Tina is already getting treatment. During the week she spends in hospital, she will receive daily doses of a vitamin supplement to build up her strength.
Once she is ready to leave, her mother will take home a supply of nutritious corn-soya blend (CSB) to make healthy portions of porridge for her baby. Then each month, Armaral will collect a ration of CSB which WFP supplies to the health centre.
A hidden problem
But in many other cases, chronic child malnutrition -- whose main causes include poor diet and disease -- goes untreated and largely unseen. Stunted growth is the main indicator.
The condition has debilitating long-term effects: decreased cognitive function affecting performance at school; reduced productive capacity and poor health as adults; and an increased risk of degenerative diseases like diabetes.
Under the multi-sectoral action plan, a range of new interventions will be rolled out in the coming months and years. The priorities include greater access to fortified foods and micronutrients and improved health and sanitation facilities in rural areas.
As chronic malnutrition frequently begins while the child is still in the mother’s womb and often follows early pregnancy, the target groups will be teenage girls, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and children under the age of two.