Frida Sedibe is seen receiving food parcels from Africa Medalllion Group in this file photo. According to the 2020 Global Nutrition Report, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weakness of food and health systems, disproportionately impacting already vulnerable populations.  Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/ African News Agency (ANA)
Frida Sedibe is seen receiving food parcels from Africa Medalllion Group in this file photo. According to the 2020 Global Nutrition Report, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weakness of food and health systems, disproportionately impacting already vulnerable populations. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/ African News Agency (ANA)

Covid-19 threatens food systems raising spectre of malnutrition

By Siphelele Dludla Time of article published May 13, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Covid-19 is threatening to reverse the gains that have been made against malnutrition across Africa as the pandemic pushes the health and food systems to the limit, a new report has found. 

The 2020 Global Nutrition Report released on Tuesday found that the Covid-19 pandemic had exposed the weakness of food and health systems, disproportionately impacting already vulnerable populations.

The authors of the report stressed the need to address malnutrition in all its forms by tackling injustices in food and health systems.

University of Cape Town’s Professor Jane Battersby-Lennard said food insecurity could result in malnutrition manifesting in the continent.

“We have seen significant progress to tackle malnutrition in Africa, but the Covid-19 pandemic could reverse these gains,” Battersby-Lennard said. 

“Covid-19 is expected to increase this disparity, which means that now is the time to scale up our efforts and support communities and people most affected.”

The 2020 Global Nutrition Report said that South Africa would achieve only two out of 10 global nutrition targets set for 2025.

South Africa is listed among 35 countries who would meet at least two targets, with four being the maximum number of targets any country was on track to meet. 

The study reported on 194 countries’ level progress towards eight of the ten 2025 global nutrition targets, with nine other African countries also on track to meet two targets. 

These targets include anaemia, low birthweight, exclusive breastfeeding, childhood stunting, childhood wasting, childhood overweight, adult obesity and adult diabetes. 

The report said Africa had made considerable effort to reduce the prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years of age, but remained the hardest hit by overlapping forms of malnutrition. 

Global production levels for the three most widely consumed staples - rice, wheat and maize - are at or near all-time highs, but the prices of certain cash crops have been depressed by the slowing of global demand.  

Thousands of residents have been queueing to receive food parcels which were donated by the government departments and NGOs across South Africa. 

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) last month warned that African countries which strongly relied on food imports were highly exposed to international food market shocks from Covid-19. 

Reports also emerged over the weekend that more than 1 000 people queued for more than 1km to get free food parcels in Geneva, Switzerland, as the Covid-19 impact was also biting hard on the world’s richest countries. 

The World Bank said the disruptions in domestic food supply chains and other shocks effecting food production, and loss of incomes and remittances were creating strong tensions and food security risks in many countries.

Co-chair of the  2020 Global Nutrition Report, Renata Micha, said as inequalities and malnutrition continued to sweep the world and Africa. 

“Good nutrition is an essential defence strategy to protect populations against epidemics, release the burden on our health systems, deliver Universal Health Coverage and ultimately save lives,” Micha said. 

“The findings of the 2020 Global Nutrition Report make clear that tackling malnutrition should be at the centre of our global health response.”

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