Fighting famine in Africa

The world has enough expertise to curb malnutrition and yet 3.1 million children younger than five years fall victim to it each year. This is similar to a fully booked Airbus A380 (about 500 people) crashing every hour. One of the reasons for malnutrition is poor implementation of nutrition-related action plans at various levels, resulting in children going to bed hungry tonight.

The Centre of Excellence for Nutrition at the North-West University has taken the lead internationally in having a positive effect on these shocking statistics. Professor Johann Jerling, director of this centre, launched an initiative in 2002 that empowered African nutritionists with leadership skills, enabling them to make a greater impact in their communities. The initiative recently shifted into a higher gear and after years of hard work, it now appears to be making a significant difference.

The African Nutrition Leadership Programme develops specialised leadership skills in 30 selected individuals from various African countries each year so that they can positively influence, among others, governments and nongovernmental organisations to bring about a better understanding of the seriousness of malnutrition and a speedier implementation of solutions. To date, 325 individuals from 34 African countries with advanced qualifications in nutrition have been further developed. 

Says Jerling: “Take Zambia as an example. Approximately 43% of all children younger than five years are chronically undernourished. It doesn’t help that a country has the necessary agricultural potential, food, technology and expertise and nevertheless hundreds of hungry children die daily. Leadership plays a critical role in the ability to implement good plans and apply the appropriate resources in the appropriate places and at the appropriate time. These are life or death decisions.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), which offers long-term humanitarian and developmental aid to children and mothers in developing countries, has entered into a partnership with the NWU. 

“We are delighted that we, as part of this partnership between Uniecef and the Centre of Excellence for Nutrition at the NWU, have received a donation of R7.2-million from Unicef that allows us to offer urgent leadership development in Rwanda and Uganda over the next six months. It is pleasing to see that years of hard work, research and investment by experts at the NWU are making a difference in people’s lives at an international level.”

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