The government has launched a five-year programme to improve the quality of nutrition for women, girls and children.
Through a Sh709 million grant from Nutrition International (formerly known as the Micronutrient Initiative), the government will improve the nutrition of adolescent girls in nine counties through weekly iron and folic acid supplementation and nutrition education.
By increasing the availability of commercial maize flour fortified with iron and folic acid, the government hopes to reach nearly one million adolescent girls and women of reproductive age.
With $75 million in anchor funding from the Canadian government, Nutrition International, launched the “Right Start” initiative in nine countries across Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania) and Asia (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines), targeting 50 million women and adolescent girls by 2020. This includes interventions adapted to each country, with an aim of reducing anaemia, neural tube defects in newborns, birth complications, low birth weight and maternal and newborn deaths, as well as stunting in children under age five.
An estimated 810,000 adolescent girls living in the nine targeted countries will receive weekly iron and folic supplementation and nutrition education through multiple platforms such as schools, private health facilities and communities, with the aim of reducing iron deficiency anaemia by 10 per cent.
Anaemia affects half a billion women of reproductive age and 38 per cent of pregnant women worldwide. In Kenya, a quarter of all women, including adolescent girls, have anaemia.
The programme also seeks to provide access to commercial maize flour fortified with iron and folic acid to 986,000 women of reproductive age and adolescent girls.
Although maize flour fortification is now mandatory, the focus is usually on large millers, who only produce 40 per cent of all maize flour in the country, leaving out small- and medium-scale millers who lack the capacity to fortify their flour.
Under the programme, 710,000 pregnant women and 666,000 newborns will also receive better antenatal, delivery and postnatal care at community health facilities in 21 counties in Kenya. This will include iron and folic acid supplementation during pregnancy to reduce the risk of low birth weight, optimal cord clamping and care, and promotion of early initiation to breastfeeding and kangaroo mother care to improve newborn survival and health.
About 600,000 infants under age two in 16 counties will also be reached with improved nutrition through the development of policies to scale up and extend interventions including optimal breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding, counselling and food supplementation with multiple micronutrient powders for infants and young children.
Malnutrition remains one of the most persistent barriers to growth and human development. Globally, an estimated one billion women are malnourished, and about 20 million babies delivered every year have low birth weight. Only two-thirds of all newborns are exclusively breastfed, and less than a quarter of infants aged six to 23 months benefit from appropriate complementary feeding.
The grant will also be used to build the capacity of frontline health workers to provide quality antenatal, delivery and postnatal care, allowing for improved survival and health of pregnant women and newborns.