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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Invest in mothers and the unborn to secure Africa’s future

Later this week, Uwezo, will launch the annual learning assessment report. Previous reports have shown that learning levels are low and remained static; less than one third of children in standard 3 posses basic numeracy and literacy skills. Why are our children not learning?

What is most disconcerting however is that learning outcomes are lower in rural, arid and poorer households across the country. Pass rates in numeracy and literacy were highest in Nairobi and Central Kenya and lowest in counties like Wajir, Turkana, Garissa, Mandera and Tana River. Moreover, 90 percent of the mothers in counties in poor arid and semi-arid counties could not read the level a standard 2 pupil compared to less than 30 percent of mothers in counties Central Kenya. 

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey report of 2014, children of mothers who are illiterate or did not complete primary school are more likely to be stunted than children born to and raised by mothers with secondary education or higher.

High prevalence of stunting converges with mothers’ literacy levels and low level of learning achievement among children. Our research on spatial patterns of inequality at the East African Institute suggests that stunting could explain up to 46 percent of the difference between eight counties (Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, West Pokot, Garissa, Samburu and Isiolo), and remaining 38 counties.

Stunting is a horrific early growth failure and has been described by WHO as the most significant impediment to human development. Stunting is caused by poor nutrition and maternal health especially in the first 1,000 days, which is the first two years from conception. Sadly, the effects of stunting are irreversible. Children over the age of two years are unlikely to regain lost development potential and carry long-term deficits in cognitive capacity.

Food for Thought, a report by Save the Children published in 2013, showed that compared with normal children, stunted children: score 7 percent lower on math tests; are 19 percent less likely to be able to read a simple sentence at age 8, and 12 percent less likely able to write a simple sentence; and, are 13 percent less likely to be able to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school.

Studies by the World Bank estimate that a one percent loss in height due to stunting could lead to up to 1.4 percent loss in economic productivity. It is estimated that 40-67 per cent of the working population Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Swaziland was stunted as children. Today, this early growth failure costs these economies between 1.9 and 16.5 percent of GDP.

The African Development Bank estimates the cost of closing Africa’s infrastructure gap at USD 360 billion, with significant investments required by 2020. Do we know what it costs to halt the march of malnutrition and secure the first 1,000 days for all African children?  

Together, lets invest in mothers and unborn children to secure Africa’s future and build a stronger generation.

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