Zambia’s child malnutrition is costing the country $14 billion a year

Written by By Carol Reinking, CNN

Around a third of Zambia’s children don’t have access to vaccinated food crops, according to a new study from University of Zambia-Interswitch.

In a report published in the Journal of Food Security and Nutrition, researchers interviewed 10,000 Zambian parents on the impact of the country’s vaccination program on food security and child mortality.

The team found that 1.2 million of Zambia’s 13 million children do not regularly eat food crops such as maize, sorghum, millet and cassava. Some 63% of children not getting access to these crops go on to die before their fifth birthday.

The global spread of highly infectious diseases such as measles and measles-containing oral polio virus have also contributed to this food insecurity, say the authors, while Zambia’s poverty and a shaky public health infrastructure can also hinder the country’s ability to provide vaccinations.

Zambia offers four vaccines for infants and children aged 6 months to five years against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and polio. The program has served around 1.8 million children and is expanding with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study follows a similar 2015 report from the same group, which found that 95% of Zambian children hadn’t received vaccinations in the six months preceding their interview. The Zambian Daily Mail has reported that a similar number of parents have failed to send their children to vaccination clinics in recent years, due to a lack of resources, sponsorship and training.

Zambia’s rural areas, away from city centers, are increasingly missing out on the polio vaccinations and other interventions, says Mark Stevens, Executive Director of the World Health Organization Foundation, which commissioned the research.

“In addition to measles and polio, polio and tetanus are the most frequently occurring causes of death in children under 5 years old,” he says. “The cost of introducing more vaccinations into the main public health programmes is small compared to the lost lives that result from these unvaccinated children.”

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