Next govt faces hunger crisis

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Pascalinah Kabi

LERIBE – THE fledgling Movement for Economic Change (MEC) or any other party that will come to power after next month’s snap elections will have their work cut out for them in addressing the grim realities of grinding poverty and malnutrition that confronts the nation.

The election was called in the aftermath of the opposition parties’ successful no confidence vote which toppled the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ coalition government just two years into its five year-tenure.

Formed in March and fronted by former Small Business Development minister Selibe Mochoboroane, the MEC has been campaigning on the platform of tackling the scourge of malnutrition in the event they win the 3 June elections.

And the task that awaits them is by no means an easy one.

Recently the Lesotho Times visited Tsikoane constituency in the Leribe district and witnessed at close range the adverse effects of the scourge of malnutrition particularly on young lives and their mothers.

The ground was moist as a consequence of the rain and hail that had pounded Tsikoane during the weekend and yet a nursing mother *Matšeliso Sekhamane had no hesitation in sitting down to nurse her child on the sidelines of the MEC rally.

One would have been easily forgiven for thinking her child was only a year old. On the face of it, the child looked nothing like the four year-old the mother said she was.

“I get worried because of the looks I get whenever I tell people my child’s age,” Ms Sekhamane said, adding, “I don’t know what is wrong with her and unfortunately I have never had the chance to go to the hospital due to my work commitments”.

The 28-year-old mother of two works an 11 hour day at a factory which takes most of her time, making it impossible to ensure that her children eat well or get medical attention when it is required.

“I leave my children with their grandmother at Ha Shonapase where we live and I really don’t want what happens during the entire day because I leave my home at around 6am and will only be back after 7pm,” she said.

“When I was pregnant with this child, I attended antenatal clinic classes and nurses used to tell us that it was important for us to eat well during pregnancy. They further encouraged us to breastfeed our children and ensure they ate balanced meals.

“But with long working hours it is almost impossible to ensure that my kids eat well.

“At times we just have to make do with what we have even if it’s not a balanced meal,” Ms Sekhamane said.

And so while Ms Sekhamane may not be aware of the term, her child’s condition is a case of malnutrition.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines malnutrition as deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.

“The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions. One is ‘undernutrition’—which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals).

“The other is overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer),” read WHO website.

Lesotho is one of the countries with unacceptably high stunting rates at 33.2 percent among children under the age of five years.

This is a clear indication that chronic food and nutrition insecurity remain deeply rooted.

In 2014, an estimated 88 919 of the 275 000 Lesotho children were affected by stunting and almost 28 292 children were underweight.

The Lesotho Cost of Hunger Report said the situation was especially critical for children between 12 and 23 months.

“Overall, estimated data from the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey shows that 50 335 clinical episodes in Lesotho were associated with the higher risk of children being underweight, generating a total cost of M40.8 million,” reads the report.

The report further stated that between 2008 and 2014, an estimated 9272 child deaths in Lesotho were directly associated with undernutrition, representing 19.5 percent of all child mortalities for this period.

The report stated that malnutrition had negative consequences on health, education and national economy; warning that Lesotho lost an estimated M1.96 billion in the year 2014 as a result of child undernutrition; equivalent to 7.13 percent of Lesotho’s Gross Domestic Product.

But the silver lining news for Ms Sekhamane and thousands of other parents is that malnutrition is reversible.

The WHO manual on managing severe acute malnutrition in infants and children states that “in order to achieve early identification of children with severe acute malnutrition in the community, trained community health workers and community members should measure the mid-upper arm circumference of infants and children aged 6-59 months of age and examine them for bilateral pitting oedema”.

“Infants and children who are 6-59 months of age and have a mid-upper arm circumference should be immediately referred for full assessment at the treatment center for management of sever acute malnutrition.”

WHO further stated the need to periodically monitor children that have been treated for severe acute malnutrition to avoid relapses.

These and other challenges are high on the election agenda of MEC leader Selibe Mochoboroane who addressed his 10th political rally in Leribe on Saturday.

Mr Mochoboroane said, among other things, a MEC government would build a daycare centre for children whose parents work at the clothing firms in Maputsoe, Leribe.

Mr Mochoboroane said he had visited the factory workers last week to remind them of their importance to Lesotho’s economy.

“Most factory workers have families and every single person needs to take care of their children and see them grow up.

“But taking care of children financially isn’t enough, which is why we are going to build a special school for factory workers’ children to ensure that they have access to their children and ensure that they get everything they need to grow up holistically,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

He also said they would set up mobile clinics at the factories so that workers would not have to walk long distances to access health services.

Mr Mochoboroane told this publication on the sidelines of the rally that it was disturbing that Lesotho continued to experience malnutrition when it was preventable.

The Thabana-Morena constituency candidate said it was best to address issues of malnutrition when the child was still young and that parents were best suited to do that job.

“That is why we will work hard to ensure that while working hard to put food on the table for their children, parents will also have access to their children during lunch and ensure that they eat well,” he said.

Mr Mochoboroane said it was unacceptable that some employers were continuously getting away with breaking the laws of the country on maternity leave.

He said that he had been informed that some employers were not paying for maternity leave while some only paid when nursing employees returned to work.

“This must come to an end. A MEC government will ensure that every employer respects the law and where there are loopholes, we will ensure that parliament enacts legislation to protect employees on maternity leave.”

He also said it was unacceptable for factory workers to be paid peanuts upon retirement, a situation he said will change if MEC won the elections.

Mr Mochoboroane said they would also set up a Factory Trust Fund to ensure that factory workers are adequately remunerated upon retirement.

He said the fund would also act as a surety to enable workers to borrow from commercial banks.

Mr Mochoboroane also bemoaned the lack of concrete government policies that would enable the country to realise its vast agricultural potential.

He said despite its excellent wheat yield, Leribe district suffered a huge blow in the 2016/17 summer cropping season after the crop deteriorated because it was not harvested on time.

“Leribe has always done well in farming and this translated into the good wheat harvest this summer but you were dealt a blow by the government’s failure to help you harvest your good yield and MEC will not let this happen.”

He said ministers and principal secretaries in his government would sign performance-based contracts to ensure all MEC policies would be implemented.

“Just like in the teaching profession where principals use lesson plans to keep tabs on teachers, I will ensure that every chief accounting officer signs a performance contract and also ensure that there are implementing strategies in place.

“It will help us monitor performance and we will be able to act swiftly to ensure that our government policies are implemented,” he said.

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