Jay Naidoo is critical about the plight of malnourished people in SA. Picture: Ian Landsberg

Peter Kenny

Independent Foreign Service

Jay Naidoo, chairman of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (Gain), says it an indictment of a middle-income country like SA that one-third of its children are malnourished.

Last week he attended the 10th anniversary celebrations of Gain, which is a Geneva-based international organisation that mobilises public-private partnerships to implement large-scale innovative and sustainable market-based nutrition solutions.

Marc Van Ameringen, the executive director of the body, told board members: “So far, we are reaching over 610 million people daily with improved nutrition and our overall target is to reach 1 billion. We have developed over 50 partnerships, and have raised $400 million (R3.3 billion) to deliver programmes.”

Naidoo, the first general secretary of Cosatu and a former cabinet minister, became the first chairman of Gain in 2003.

He said the body was the brainchild of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and Bill Gates, who now heads the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives vast sums of money to charities.

“Ultimately I saw malnutrition was a connector between various other development challenges such as food security, climate change, agriculture, women’s incomes and public health,” said Naidoo.

“Our challenge in sub-Saharan Africa is enormous.

“We know that a third of our children are malnourished,” said Naidoo, referring specifically to SA.

He said most of the work of the body centred on Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“It is an indictment on us as a country.

“We are not in a position where we have a lack of resources. We invest a huge proportion of our resources into health and education,” he noted.

Naidoo added that not enough was being done to link these to the fight against malnutrition by producing food products for the poor.

The first 1 000 days of a child’s life are the most crucial, he said.

“You miss that window and the problem is irreversible, so that children are stunted, physically stunted or not the right height.”

Nutrition was also vital to the effectiveness of campaigns against HIV and Aids.

“There is empirical evidence that people who are very sick and on ARVs have side effects.

“Nutrition is a key component,” said Naidoo, who praised the administration under President Jacob Zuma for providing antiretroviral drugs to 1.5 million HIV-positive people.

“Providing ARVs without nutrition is in the medium- and long- term going to be extremely negative for us,” said Naidoo.

“There has to be a component in dealing with their nutritional needs.”

One of the body’s first successful campaigns was with the SA Health Department for the “the mass fortification of maize flour and wheat flour with folic acid, vitamin A and iron.”

Naidoo said the campaign had caused a significant drop in neural birth defects by making it compulsory for suppliers to add minute quantities of folic acid to their flour. “For mothers, after six months of breast feeding, nothing could be better than having nutrient-dense products. Rich people can easily buy the products. But we have to create appropriate products for people at the bottom of the pyramid,” Naidoo said.

He sounded a warning against over-reliance on breast feeding to the exclusion of any supplementary or complementary foodstuffs.