Food insecurity threatens fight against Covid-19

Women receive bread at a food handout during the Eid al Adha at the 'Hunger Has No Religion' feeding scheme, in Johannesburg, South Africa, 01 August 2020. The local Muslim community spent the time they would have shared with family celebrating Eid al-Adha by feeding hundreds who are facing food insecurity due to the effects of the 5th month of pandemic lockdown. Food insecurity is one of the main issues facing the country since the start of coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Picture: EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK

There is also an expected increase in child malnutrition, including wasting, due to steep declines in household incomes and changes in the availability and affordability of nutritious foods.

Growing hunger in South Africa poses a threat to the fight against Covid-19. This according to Professor Corinna Walsh of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Free State.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the preexisting challenges of food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition which, according to Walsh is now affecting more individuals and households.

She stresses that the call by the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA), the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), and Dietetics-Nutrition is a Profession (DIP) on government to address malnutrition highlights this.

“The call confirms that good nutrition is an essential part of an individual’s defence against disease and explains that malnutrition, in the forms of both over- and undernutrition, is closely related to an increased risk of illness and death, which has a considerable economic and societal impact,” she says.

“The coronavirus pandemic has emphasised the importance of food security and nutritional wellbeing for all South Africans and exposed the vulnerability and weaknesses of our food systems.”

Also read: Half of SA’s citizens face food insecurity – Sassa

The call comes as uncertainty in the agricultural sector over the rainfall suggests further risks in food security, especially in areas still affected by the drought which ended in earnest around January this year for most parts of the country.

But while most regions received late rains, parts of the Eastern Cape did not get sufficient rains to improve dam levels.

“This was muted until recently, with now increasing reports of a potential “day zero” in Port Elizabeth and surrounding areas.While the average provincial dam level is 51% as of September 14, 2020 data; which is marginally higher than 2019, a closer look at various dams in the province is frightening. The water levels are too low.”

While most Covid-19 deaths in South Africa have been adults with comorbidities, an article published in The Lancet highlights how the socioeconomic effects of Covid-19 has further driven the risk of death, especially in young children. It says the unprecedented global social and economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic poses grave risks to the nutritional status and survival of young children in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs).

There is also an expected increase in child malnutrition, including wasting, due to steep declines in household incomes, changes in the availability and affordability of nutritious foods, and interruptions to health, nutrition, and social protection services. In these countries, one in ten deaths among children younger than 5 years is attributed to severe wasting because wasted children are at increased risk of mortality from infectious diseases.

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