By Olimatou Coker
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with National Nutrition Agency (NaNA)together with World Food Programme (WFP) has on Wednesday launch an eight-day Nutrition Awareness campaign dubbed “National Nutrition Week” to raise public awareness on the importance of healthy eating to address malnutrition in The Gambia at a launching held at Sunset hotel in Kotu.
The UN Nutrition Working Group is supporting the initiative being funded by FAO through the European Union-FAO co-funded project titled “Improving Food Security and Nutrition in The Gambia through Food Fortification”. The project aims to improve the nutritional and health status of vulnerable populations from micronutrient deficiencies throughout The Gambia, and specifically targets women, girls and children in the North Bank Region and Central River Region.
The forum accords the project team and implementing partners and the UN Nutrition Working Group a platform to disseminate vital nutrition messages to the public.
Speaking, Malang Fofana, Deputy Executive Director of NaNA, said the nutrition week celebration is aimed at creating public awareness on the importance of healthy eating adoption of desirable behaviors to address malnutrition in The Gambia.
“The Gambia is experiencing the ‘triple burden of malnutrition’ whereby under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiency co-exist. Although there has been some significant improvement ij reducing under nutrition over the years, the prevalence rates are still unacceptably high, while overweight, obesity and diet related non-communicable disease are increasingly become a challenge”.
Yasuhiro Tsumura, WFP Representative and County Director, stated that with EU-funded project “improving food security and nutrition” through food fortification, the UN agencies supported by the government of The Gambia to establish the requisite regulatory and legal framework for food fortification in The Gambia.
“Three fortification standards have been gazetted for fortificated wheat flour, edible fats and oils and iodized salt, whilst a standard for fortified rice is awaiting submission for gazetting by The Gambia standard bureau”.
He said a fortification regulation 2020 which mandates the fortification of the abovementioned foods was launched in June 2021 by the Vice President of The Gambia and is being enforced by the food safety and quality authority. “The UN agencies further supported the government of The Gambia to articulate its commitment at the global nutrition summit in Japan, December 2021. The commitment document received a high rating and appreciation. Early this month UN agencies supported the development of a multi-sectoral nutrition strategic plan 2022-2025”.
Tsumura added that nutrition-sensitive agriculture through bio fortification has been successfully piloted in CRR north, CRR south and NBR providing beneficiaries households with bio fortification maize, cassava, orange, flesh sweet potato and iron rice cowpea crop varieties. “This was made possible through collaboration with the ministry of agriculture, NARI. Five varieties of Orange flesh sweet potato and one pro- vitamin A maize variety all of which are for children 6-23 months in CRR north, and salt idolizations at salt production sites across the country”.
He also added that relevant public and privy sector stakeholders’ capacities have been enhanced by providing the requisite knowledge, skills and equipment to enable them to implement and monitor nutrition programs. UN agencies through NaNA, ministry of agriculture and ministry of health supported the training of 25 doctors on the integrated management of acute malnutrition protocol, 180 nurses on out-patient treatment programs and In-patient facility care and more than 300 nurses, social workers on the prevention, management and monitoring the nutritional status of the vulnerable groups.
Modou Lamin Jaiteh, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, explained that the project has distributed various communications and visibility materials including project newsletters, brochures, fact sheets, banners, branded T-shirt and posters.
“You could see through the years that government has continued to demonstrate commitment in attaining optimal health and nutrition of The Gambia population through diverse and efficient interventions by incorporating mandatory larger scale food fortification and Boi fortification into national nutrition programs.”