BY MELODY CHIKONO
It is lunch hour at a clinic in the high-density suburb of Mbare in Harare and the nurses are grouping as they take a break from their daily routine when suddenly Leona, who has been working at the kids section joins them looking drained.
It hasn’t been an easy day for her like it has been since the onset of Covid-19, same cases every day, cases of malnutrition and hunger.
Zimbabwe has had these issues existing already to the extent of having feeding programmes in schools, but the emergence of Covid-19 has also seen kids not going to school.
Leona narrates how she has been witnessing the tragedies women are going through in this pandemic that manifest in rising cases of malnutrition and she seeks to understand where the real problem could be.
As much as she has recommendations for these women and the kids, it is the trauma of knowing that the impact of the pandemic on issues of malnutrition lay squarely on the shoulders of the tiny and weak shoulders of children and women respectively that takes her down.
The group acknowledges the given fact that Covid-19 is going to be with us for a long time as cases continue to spike in Zimbabwe with the country having recorded over 114 000 cases of Covid-19 this far.
As the pandemic continues to take its toll on the economy, there are no ready solutions for the vulnerable.
The government discontinued a Covid-19 stimulus package rollout in December 2020.
This was a social protection scheme, which was targeting vulnerable households affected by the pandemic, benefiting only
300 000 people from the targeted one million households.
In the presence of lockdowns and movement restrictions, more and more people have plunged into hunger as disposable incomes continue to shrink.
As lunch hour comes to an end, Leona and colleagues conclude that investment in nutrition is central in the fight against Covid-19 with utmost prioritisation of women and children.
Women in Zimbabwe have been battling effects of Covid-19, which range from gender-based violence to sacrificing the little they have for their families.
Covid-19 is exacerbating high pre-existing rates of malnutrition with over one billion globally malnourished, putting millions of vulnerable people at risk.
Experts now believe that if Covid’s effects on nutrition are left unchecked, the health and wellbeing of millions of the world’s most vulnerable people will be compromised, and the hard-won development gains of the past decade lost.
The pandemic is risking essential services and many key nutrition interventions just can’t wait.
They argue that nutrition must be central across the response, resilience building, and recovery phases. We cannot wait for “treatment” we must focus on “prevention” as well, they said.
In the midst of all this, Martha Nyagaya of Nutrition International stresses that the crisis will discriminate against women and girls as women will continue to eat last and eat least.
“Women’s health and wellbeing is often the first to be sacrificed as incomes fall,” Magaya said.
“The burden of care will fall disproportionately on women both in the household and in their roles as community health workers and girls’ school attendance could fall and child marriages increase.
“The economic costs and consequences of the pandemic are severe as up to 80 million people may become malnourished because of the economic impact of the pandemic.
“The number of people suffering from acute food insecurity could double to 270 million.
“Inaction is not an option and without immediate action, by 2022 we are likely to have 2,1 million more anaemic pregnant women, 9,3 million more children suffering from wasting, 2,6 million more children suffering from stunting and 168 000 deaths of children under five.
“There is an urgent need to continue to deliver high-impact, low-cost nutrition interventions with a focus on women, girls and children.”
Magaya added that nutrition should be made a pillar of every phase of the Covid-19 response and recovery while integrating nutrition into non-nutrition platforms and sectors, like education and water, sanitation and hygiene.
“Ensure food systems, social protection programs and nutrition work together to improve diets, nutrition and health and increase global visibility and investments for nutrition,” she said.
Inner Analytics Inc’s nutrition data analyst Diagoh Mguri couldn’t agree more, saying there should be investment in nutrition amid the pandemic with the provocative results of a research carried out four decades ago of biomedical research, including the findings from a 27-year laboratory programme proving that eating right can save lives.
“I will not ask you to believe conclusions, but beneath I have rounded up some of the publications findings in brief: Dietary change can enable diabetic patients to go off their medication, heart disease can be reversed with diet alone, breast cancer is related to levels of female hormones in the blood, which are determined by the food we eat. Consuming dairy foods can increase the risk of prostate cancer, antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are linked to better mental performance in old age, kidney stones can be prevented by a healthy diet and type 1 diabetes, one of the most devastating diseases that can befall a child, is convincingly linked to infant feeding practices,” he said
Mguri brings an insight to information gaps that exist in Zimbabwe in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He was quick to point out that this was not because there was no information available or research hasn’t been done, but argued that the real science has been buried beneath a clutter of irrelevant or even harmful information-junk science, fad diets and food industry propaganda.
“I want to give you a new framework for understanding nutrition and health during the pandemic, a framework that eliminates confusion, prevents and treats disease and allows you to live a more fulfilling life in the amidst of a pandemic,” Mguri said.
“I have been ‘in the system’ and at the very highest levels, pioneering a leading international medical nutrition therapy health technology company head quartered in Toronto, Canada.
“After a stretching career in research and medical nutrition therapy, I now understand why many people are so confused.
“As a taxpayer, who foots the bill for research and health policy in Zimbabwe, you deserve to know that many of the common notions you have been told about food, health and disease (Covid-19) are wrong.”
Mguri argued that the hope that genetic research would eventually lead to drug cures for Covid-19 ignored more powerful solutions that can be employed today while obsessively controlling one’s intake of any one nutrient, such as vitamins, carbohydrates, fat, cholesterol or omega-3 fats, will not result in long-term health.
“These findings demonstrate that a good diet is the most powerful weapon we have against disease and sickness,” he added.
“Should Covid-19 be an exception?
“Henceforth, an understanding of this scientific evidence is not only important for improving health; it also has profound implications for our entire society during this pandemic.
“We must know why misinformation dominates our society and why we are grossly mistaken in how we investigate diet and disease, how we promote health and how we treat illness.”
Should people truly know what they should be doing to improve their health amidst this pandemic, Mguri believes the war against Covid-19 could be dealt with more easily and with far less pain.