Drought conditions continue to affect most of the southern part of Angola and many rural households are experiencing the effects of a second year of poor rainfall and significant crop losses, which are estimated to be between 40 and 70 percent.
This situation contributes to the problem of both moderate and severe malnutrition cases among children under the age of five. Many affected families have resorted to eating a maximum of two meals per day rather than the preferred three meals per day, where each meal generally consists of a cereal (maize, millet or sorghum), vegetables (cassava leaves, bean or other leaves), oil and salt.
A recent survey on malnutrition highlighted inappropriate infant feeding practices as a significant contributing factor. Most mothers introduce solid food within the first three or four months after birth, and in some cases as early as two months. One of the contributing causes of early weaning is the cultural belief that continued breastfeeding during pregnancy is bad luck for a baby in utero, for mothers that became pregnant within two years of the birth of their previous child.
Key informants at Malnutrition Clinics reported that almost all of the children admitted for malnutrition were also suffering from illnesses such as malaria, typhoid and stomach parasites. Most of the children admitted to the Malnutrition Clinics are between the ages of six and 24 months. Malnutrition during early childhood has major consequences for children’s long-term development, affecting future educational, income and productivity outcomes.
Improvements in nutrition after two years of age do not usually lead to recovery of lost potential. Brain and nervous system development begins early in pregnancy and is largely complete by the time the child reaches the age of two. The timing, severity and duration of nutritional deficiencies during this period affect brain development in different ways, influenced by the brain’s need for a given nutrient at a specific time. While the developing brain has the capacity for repair, it is also highly vulnerable, and nutrient deficiencies during critical periods have long-term effects (UNICEF, April, 2013).
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