The Three Trimesters of Pregnancy Explained

In most cases, a pregnancy will last for 40 weeks, which are grouped into three stages called trimesters. Keep reading to understand what happens in each of these trimesters.

First trimester

This will last from the first day to the 13th week of your pregnancy. During the first trimester, a woman will not look pregnant but her body will be going through massive changes to accommodate the developing fetus. Your hormone levels begin to change substantially, your uterus begins to promote the growth of your fetus and placenta and your body supplies blood to it so that your baby receives the required nutrients and oxygen. In addition, your heart rate will increase and you may experience common pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue and constipation.

This stage is critical for the development of the fetus. The fetus will have developed its organs by the end of the third trimester. It is therefore, important that you carry on a healthy and nutritious diet, adding appropriate amounts of folic acid while avoiding smoking, alcohol and other harmful habits.

Second trimester

This includes weeks 13 through 27 of your pregnancy. This is the most comfortable stage of pregnancy for most women as many of the early pregnancy symptoms would have subsided by now. You’ll be able to sleep better in the night and have more energy during the day. However, you may experience a different set of symptoms such as heartburn and leg cramps. Seeing a doctor for possible solutions to these problems can definitely help.

In addition, you’ll begin to look pregnant at this stage as your uterus grows larger in size. By the end of this trimester, your baby would have grown 4 times more it’s initial size in the first trimester.

Your screening tests will be performed at this stage of your pregnancy as well. Your doctor will perform diagnostic tests so be sure to use this opportunity to talk to your doctor about any health issues you have or previously had, especially if you suspect they may affect your pregnancy or baby.

Third trimester

This stage starts from the 28th week and ends at the day of your delivery. You’ll be seeing your doctor more frequently as the doctor will have to perform the following tests on a regular (at least once a month) basis:

  • Urine tests for protein
  • Blood pressure
  • Fundal height
  • Fetal heart rate
  • Hands and legs for swelling

Additionally, the doctor will check the baby’s position and your cervix to determine how your body is preparing itself for childbirth. This is a great time to do some research on labor and delivery. You can do this online or by taking a childbirth class to learn more about the different stages of labor, your delivery options and their pros and cons and any other concerns you may have.

By Shomaila Issam

Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?

Contrary to popular belief, exercise is actually good for pregnant women and it is safe. However, research shows that most pregnant women don’t get enough exercise on a regular basis. Exercising regularly will not harm your baby; in fact, it may help in the prevention of some pregnancy-related complications like pre-eclampsia.

Know what you should avoid

Avoid horse riding, scuba diving, football or any contact sport that may cause any type of trauma to your abdomen. Ruling these workouts and sports out, you still have large variety of exercises you can do.

Avoid exercises that require lying on your back for prolonged periods. Lying on your back for prolonged periods during your pregnancy can cause the uterus to push down on your blood vessels. The uterus may put pressure on the vena cava (the main vein that carries blood back to the heart from the lower part of the body), interfering with circulation and causing a feeling of dizziness.

If you’re an active person already, you’ll need only a few modifications in your routine, just be sure to talk to your doctor about it first. However, if you’re not an active person, seek advice on how you can safely start moving. 10-minute walks are a great way to start!

Stay hydrated

Be sure to stay hydrated at all times, especially before, after and during a workout. Hydration is one of the most important aspects of your pregnancy self-care routine. Dehydration can cause unhealthy and potentially damaging effects on you and your baby. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times and drink before you feel thirsty.

Be sure to warm up and cool down

Warming up your body before a workout is important because it prepares your joints and muscles for the workout and prevents muscle strains. This is especially important for pregnant women. Warming up before a workout will also help gradually build your heart rate. Your heart rate is already higher when you’re pregnant so increasing it at a moderate pace will make your workout safer and more rewarding.

In addition, you should also cool down after a workout with 5 to 10 minutes of light stretching.

Understand why you’re working out

You’re not working out to lose weight or to challenge yourself, you’re working out to maintain your fitness and not lose it. Pregnancy is not about strenuous workouts, it’s about feeling healthy for yourself and your baby. If you’re comfortable with 30 minutes, don’t push yourself beyond this limit. As per your doctor’s advice, if you feel any pain, stop immediately.

Beginners should aim for 10 minutes every other day and slowly build up the length to 30 minutes. Be sure to call your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Uterine contractions
  • Vaginal bleeding

Continue moving

Avoid stationery workouts such as holding yoga poses or lifting weights for prolonged periods. Keep moving during your workouts. If you haven’t found your pregnancy workout yet, try prenatal yoga flow, swimming or Pilates.

By Shomaila Issam

Nutrition Tips for Pregnant and Lactating Mothers

Poor diet, obesity, folic acid and vitamin D deficiencies are common problems that are linked to poor health and nutrition among mothers and children.

A healthy diet is one that contains a balance of fruits and vegetables, with starchy food, meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy. The problem in most groups is that healthy eating is not promoted or encouraged in pregnant and breastfeeding women and people choose unhealthy street food as they are fast and cheap.

In most cases, women are more willing to turn towards a healthy diet and lifestyle when they are pregnant. Therefore, it is crucial that they are encouraged to do so by their health care providers. Health care providers should provide information on healthy eating, healthy weight gain, supplements that need to be taken, and harmful substances that should be avoided, such as alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco and others.

Breastfeeding mothers are providing nutrients to their baby that will help promote the baby’s health and overall growth and development, therefore, maintaining a balanced diet is critical. The following are frequently asked questions by nursing mothers regarding their health and nutrition:

  • Do I need to eat more while breastfeeding?

You’ll need to eat a little more but not so much that it makes you gain excess weight. Around 400 to 500 calories per day is going to be enough to give you that extra energy you need while breastfeeding. Note that breastfeeding does burn calories.

However, stay away from processed foods and food rich in sugar, salt and refined carbohydrates. Opt for nutritionally dense sources such as whole grain bread with peanut butter, yogurt, a handful of nuts, a banana, apple or an avocado.

Consuming healthier food varieties will ensure that you don’t gain weight. Furthermore, they will help prevent lethargy or mood fluctuations associated with a poor diet rich in sugar and trans fat.

  • What foods are best for breastfeeding mothers?

As mentioned earlier, stick to healthy choices such as high-protein foods like lean red meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy, lentils, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Add a variety of rich, vibrant fruits and vegetables in your diet and make sure you wash them before eating.

Consuming a variety of foods will also change the flavor of your breast milk, exposing the baby to different tastes and helping him or her accept solid foods much easier when the time is right.

The best way to ensure you get all the vitamins you need is by having the above-mentioned whole foods and avoiding fried, sugary foods which have very little vital nutrients. Consult your healthcare provider to determine whether you’ll need a prenatal vitamin.

  • Do I need to increase my fluid intake?

Yes, you will. There’s no strict rule on how much you should drink but it’s important that you keep yourself hydrated at all times and drink before you’re thirsty. Being thirsty means that your body is already dehydrated and needs fluids immediately. In addition, check the color of your urine. If it’s a dark yellow or has a strong odor, increase your fluid intake until your urine is colorless or a pale yellow.

Keep a glass or bottle of water with you at all times while breastfeeding your baby. Stay away from packaged juices and drinks as they contain too much sugar, which will increase your pregnancy weight even further. When it comes to coffee, limit yourself to no more than 2 cups a day. Caffeine in your breast milk may affect your baby’s sleep.

Some great alternatives to commercial drinks and coffee are homemade raw fruit and vegetable juices and citrus infused water. To make infused water, simply slice some strawberries or lemons and add them to your water bottle or jug.

Written by: Shomaila Issam

Diet and Nutrition for Cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality due to noncommunicable diseases in Africa. As in treatment of different diseases, nutrition is a vital part in cancer treatment. Feeding on right variety of foods help a person feel better and stronger, before, during and after treatment. The diet and nutrition information for cancer in this article is not meant to replace the advice of a medical practitioner specialized in cancer therapy.

Good nutrition is especially important if you are a cancer patient because both the illness and its treatments can change the way you eat. Cancer and its treatments can also affect the way your body performs different metabolic activities like digestion of foods and utilization of nutrients. The nutrients needs of people with cancer differ from one another. Your cancer care team can help you identify your nutrition goals and plan ways to help you meet them.

Feeding on the right foods as directed, when you are in cancer treatment might help you feel better, keep up your strength and energy, maintain your weight and your body’s store of nutrients, tolerate treatment-related side effects like fatigue & anaemia, lower your risk of infection, heal and recover faster. Good diet and nutrition for cancer means eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs to fight cancer. These nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins and minerals.

Choose high-protein and high-calorie foods to increase energy and help wounds heal

We need protein for growth, to repair body tissues and to keep our immune systems healthy. Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts and butters, dried beans, peas and lentils and soy foods. When your body lacks enough proteins, it might break down muscle to quench its thirst. This slows the speed of recovery from illnesses and lowers body’s immunity. People with cancer often need more protein than usual because cancer treatment might involve surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, normally extra protein is highly needed to heal tissues and help fight infection.

Carbohydrates are the body’s major source of energy. They also supply needed vitamins and minerals, fiber and phytonutrients to the body cells. For physical and proper organ function the body obtains its fuel from carbohydrates. The best sources of carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, potatoes, rice and whole grains.

Fats and oils are made of fatty acids and serve as a rich source of energy for the body. Fats are usually broken down and utilized to store energy, insulate body tissues and transport some types of vitamins through the blood.

Drink lots of fluids

All body cells need water to function. If you don’t drink enough water or of you lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhoea you can be dehydrated. If this happens the fluids and minerals that help keep your body working can become dangerously out of balance. Dry mouth is often caused by radiation therapy to the head and neck and by certain medicines. It may cause altered speech, taste, and the ability to swallow or to use dentures. There is also an increased
risk of dental decay (cavities) and gum disease. A person should drink about 8-ounce glasses of liquid each day to be sure that the body cells get the fluid they need. Keep in mind that all liquids like soups, milk, ice cream and gelatin count toward your fluid goals.

Heal well

For the body to function properly it needs small amounts of vitamins and minerals. They help the body to utilize energy (calories) found in foods. Most of them are found naturally in foods though they are also supplements in pill and liquid form. A person who eats a balanced diet with enough carbohydrates and proteins usually gets plenty of vitamins and minerals. But for cancer patients your doctor or dietitian may suggest daily multivitamin and mineral supplements. If you are thinking of taking a vitamin or supplement, be sure to discuss this with your doctor first.

Nowadays, herbs have been so famous though they have been used to treat disease for hundreds of years, with mixed results. Today, herbs are found in many products, like pills, liquid extracts, teas, and ointments. Many of these products are harmless and safe to use, but others can cause harmful side effects. Some may even interfere with proven cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and recovery from surgery. If you’re interested in using products containing herbs, talk about it with your health worker first.

Nutrition for Overweight Children

Children require proper nutrition to grow and develop – strict caloric restriction may psychologically affect your child. Therefore, it is important that you encourage your child to consume a variety of healthy food while ensuring that his or her calorie expenditure is higher with sufficient exercise for a gradual transition towards a healthy weight.

Caloric requirements

If your child is overweight, make sure you determine the ideal number of calories he or she should be eating depending on the age, activity level and gender of the child. Parents should ensure that the following calorie needs are met per day for healthy weight maintenance:

  • For ages 2 to 3: 1000-1400 calories
  • Ages 4 to 8: 1400-2000 calories for boys and 1200-1800 calories for girls
  • Ages 9-13: 1800-2600 calories for boys and 1600-2000 calories for girls

Overweight kids can stick with these guidelines while participating in sports activities to boost their physical activity levels and calorie expenditure.

Be a good example

To ensure that your child eats healthy, you’ll have to be a healthy example. If your child sees you snacking on unhealthy junk, he or she will mimic your actions. Similarly, if you’re active, watch less TV and consume more fruits and vegetables, chances are your child will want to do the same. You will have to show the positive effects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and allow your child to understand that this is completely normal and not a chore.

Start cooking healthy in front of your children – or take things a step further, by giving them a safe task too; such as mashing the potatoes or putting all ingredients of a fruit salad you just chopped up into the bowl.

Make healthy food choices

Losing weight involves building a positive relationship with healthy and nutritious food. Some lifestyle changes may be required, such as:

  • Consuming more fruits and vegetables

This is definitely a no-brainer but how you portray healthy food makes a huge difference. Add colorful and vibrant foods into the dish instead of the dull boring ones. Incorporate the colors of the rainbow such as tomatoes, beets, carrots, pumpkin, squash, oranges, papaya, sweet potato, bananas, lettuce, and blueberries and so on into your child’s meal plan. Your children can have them solo or enjoy them with their bread or cereal, milk or yogurt.

  • Cut down on sugar

Reducing the amount of sweets and candies your child eats is going to be a tough job but it’s definitely doable. Instead of avoiding sweet food completely, add healthy sweet and flavorsome choices such as banana, honey, cinnamon, mint and lemons to the foods your child eats. Furthermore, look out for hidden sugar that can be found in canned products, breads and other refined foods. Try to make food fresh and from scratch as much as possible.

  • Schedule proper meal times

Make sure your child eats breakfast every day as children who skip the first meal of the day, generally tend to be overweight. Focus on fresh fruit, oatmeal and whole grain cereals devoid of sugar. In addition, when your kids are aware that they’ll only get food at certain times, they’ll eat what they get and avoid snacking on junk food.

Discourage the consumption of fast food as much as possible and try to make healthier, home cooked versions of those foods instead. Chances are your child will enjoy your meals just the same!

By Shomaila Issam

The Burden of HIV Among Adolescents in Africa: An Emerging Crisis

Despite impressive progress towards achieving global targets aimed at halting and reversing the spread of HIV; it still remains a pressing public health challenge in Africa. Across the world, unprecedented investments into the HIV response have resulted in increased access to antiretroviral therapy, increased coverage of risk reduction programs and considerable success in prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV to the extent that ending the HIV epidemic by 2030 is a vision well within reach of global resources and efforts.

Africa has come a long way in the HIV response and has been both a trailblazer and host for various innovations aimed at controlling the HIV epidemic. For example, over the past 15 years, services for prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV expanded so rapidly across Africa that 85% of the 1.4 million children prevented from becoming infected with HIV were in Africa alone (WHO 2015). By 2014 however, Africa (which comprises only 11% of the world’s population) was home to 70% (25.8 million) of people living with HIV. A lot more therefore needs remains to be done before Africa can begin to realize the full benefits of HIV control measures within the continent’s unique context of rapid cultural, economic, political and population shifts.

A key emerging concern is the growing burden of HIV among adolescents aged 10 – 19 years. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa and the second most common cause of death among adolescents globally (WHO, 2014). According to UNAIDS, in 2013, an adolescent between the ages of 15 and 19 was newly infected with HIV every two minutes. Every year, 380,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV—that is 7,300 every week, over 1,000 every day. It should be noted that while this is by no means an African problem alone, the challenges of inadequate coverage and quality of HIV prevention and treatment services on the continent affects specific population groups like adolescents who traditionally have not been sufficiently targeted and / or reached by existing health systems. In addition in 2013, nearly half of all adolescents living with HIV globally were in six countries alone of which five are in Africa.

The drivers of this emerging crisis are varied and complex. Children who have acquired HIV from their mothers often present for treatment initially as adolescents; while on the other hand, adolescents are also acquiring HIV during unprotected sex or by using contaminated drug-injecting equipment. High mortality rates among adolescents living with HIV indicate challenges with access and adherence to treatment. In this region moreover, adolescent girls are disproportionately at high risk of acquiring HIV. Girls and young women account for 71 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub Saharan Africa. 50% of these new infections are occurring in only 10 countries namely Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Adolescent girls are more vulnerable due to gender inequalities and gender violence. According to a UNICEF report released in 2015, adolescent girls are more likely to be married or in union by age 19 than their male counterparts, and less likely than boys to have comprehensive knowledge of HIV (UNICEF, State of the World’s Children report 2015).

The magnitude and importance of this emerging crisis has grabbed the attention of governments, NGOs and communities across Africa and the world. There is general consensus that ambitious and aggressive programs targeting adolescents need to be established. There are structural or non-health sector drivers of new HIV infections among adolescents such as social acceptance of child marriage, culturally-sanctioned gender violence, declining retention rates of girls in school and persistent stigma and discrimination. These structural drivers call for multisectoral approaches to reduce new infections among adolescents. In addition HIV services must be deliberately designed as youth friendly, meeting both confidentiality and quality expectations to ensure increased access to information, prevention and treatment for adolescents. The psychosocial support and counseling services needed by adolescents living with or at risk of acquiring HIV are obviously unique to an age group that is transitioning from childhood to adulthood. This calls for innovative approaches that include assuring adolescent participation in the design, management and evaluation of HIV programs and services. At all levels: individual, community and system; Africa and her partners must take action to engage, equip and empower adolescents as part of a dynamic and sustained HIV response movement across the continent.

Engage, Equip and Empower!

“AIDS is the leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa. Globally, two-thirds of all new infections among adolescents were among adolescent girls. This is a moral injustice. I am calling on young people to lead the All In movement, alongside the United Nations, public and private partners, and countries themselves, to end the adolescent AIDS epidemic.”

Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, UNAIDS



  1. Health for the world’s adolescents: a second chance in the second decade.2014

  2. Global health sector response to HIV, 2000-2015: focus on innovations in Africa: progress report. WHO 2015

  3. The State of the World’s Children 2015: Reimagine the Future: Innovation for Every Child

  4. UNAIDS All In: #EndAdolescentAIDS, 2015.


Useful links

All In! to #EndAdolescentAIDS

HIV Mother to Child Negative Transmission, Any Ray of Success?

Ray of Hope

There are some successful stories which bring ray of hope, that one day world together will eradicate this genocidal disease, and we will be victories against this merciless killer.

Pricilla Success Story

Ms Priscilla, from Nairobi, Kenya, first found out that she is HIV positive in 2007, when she was pregnant with her first child, at 29 weeks into her pregnancy, she was provided with Nevirapine, a drug, to reduce the risk of transmission to her unborn child, after birth of her baby was give Nevirapine for 7 days and she continued to Septrin, a drug, for 7 days and she continued on Septrin to reduce the risk of opportunistic infections, her son is now 8 years old, healthy and HIV negative, it’s a great news and hope. Priscilla, was treated in Komarock, in Nairobi, Kenya, which is run by CDC (Center for Diseases Control and Prevention), partnered with Easter Deanery AIDS Relief Program (EDARP).

South Africa Mother to Child HIV Transmission Decline

South Africa has announced very promising news recently, a significant decline in mother to child HIV transmission for the second consecutive year, according to the new announced data by South African government reveals that just 2.7 percent of babies born to HIV-positive mums contracted the virus by six weeks of age, compared to 8 percent in 2008.


Exclusive Breastfeeding in South Africa

Furthermore, for the reduction of mother to child transmission danger, South Africa embarked on promoting exclusive breastfeeding in April 2012, it is ensured that all eligible HIV positive mothers are on antiretroviral therapy for the duration of breastfeeding, so that there is no HIV transmission, after six weeks of age, government of South Africa also implementing the measure to make sure it is really vital,  that infants born HIV negative remain HIV negative, which is true success of this new policy.

This policy was enacted, because of mix feeding, in which mothers combined breast milk and solids, was found to increase the risk of infants contracting HIV through their mother’s milk.

Mbono Success Story

Ms. Mbono, from South Africa, Cape Town is another success story, in year 2002, she found out that she has the HIV virus, she found out about this disease, when she was pregnant and her HIV test was administered at the start of her ante natal care program, tests revealed she was HIV positive.

With the help of UNICEF and PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) not only she safely delivered the baby with HIV negative but another baby sibling after this was born HIV negative. Additionally, she was informed and educated, how to live with the virus and clearing up her condition to others, her experience also helped other pregnant women to cope with HIV virus, during pregnancy and after the pregnancy.


World Health Organization (WHO) published new guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for treating and preventing HIV infection. World Health Organization, basically it recommends that new instructions called B+ for PMTCT, which means provision of lifelong ART to all pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV, it must be followed after delivery and completion of breastfeeding for life.

This auspicious development to reduce the infant mortality rates and passing on mother to child HIV virus truly is ray of success.

Written by Awais.F, (Public Health Medical Nutritionist/Fitness Expert)

5 Great Reasons Why Sleep is Important

A good night’s sleep is just as important as maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise. Unfortunately, our fast-paced lives do not allow our bodies to get the rest they deserve. Not only are people sleeping less, their sleep quality has drastically declined too. To understand what poor sleep can do to you, keep reading.

1. Weight gain

There may not seem to be any connection between your weight and sleep patterns but studies, show that people who sleep less are much more likely to gain weight significantly compared to those who get enough sleep. Research suggests that lack of sleep is strongly linked to obesity.

Another major factor that may play a role in weight gain among the sleep deprived is that they have a much bigger appetite than the well-rested and tend to eat more calorie-rich foods. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re affecting your body’s daily hormonal balance and this is believed to interfere with appetite regulation. This means your body produces more ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone while levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone; leptin go down.

2. Heart disease

Not getting enough sleep is also closely related to complications involving the heart, such as heart disease and stroke. A review of fifteen studies demonstrated that people have a much greater risk of heart disease and stroke if they sleep less than those who sleep for 7 to 8 hours every night.

3. Type-2 diabetes

Research shows that insufficient sleep reduces insulin sensitivity in adults and affects their blood sugar levels. A study conducted with healthy young men showed that limiting sleep duration to 4 hours for 6 nights in a row resulted in symptoms of pre-diabetes in these individuals. The effects were fortunately reversed with a week of better sleep duration.

4. Depression

Estimates show that 90% of people with depression have poor sleep quality. Lack of sleep and poor quality sleep can go as far as increasing a person’s chance of wanting to commit suicide. People with sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, report higher rates of depression compared to those without these conditions.

5. It affects your immune function

Just a tiny amount of sleep loss can significantly affect your immune system. One large study that monitored the development of the common cold found that people who slept less than 7 hours a night were roughly 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those who got 8 hours of sleep every night.

By Shomaila Issam

Malnutrition in Africa and the link to under-development

Malnutrition is known to be a direct or indirect cause of illness and death. It directly causes death especially if severe forms go untreated or indirectly by rendering those affected especially children under 5 years vulnerable to preventable infections. Globally malnutrition accounts for up to 35% deaths among children under five years old. Three forms of malnutrition, which are wasting, stunting and intrauterine growth retardation are the major contributors to child mortality, accounting for 2 million deaths annually. Despite concerted efforts by both global and local players to remedy the situation, malnutrition still abounds globally. As a result, between 2000 and 2015, there was slow progress towards the realization of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) especially those that targeted maternal and child health. In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals where Goal 2.2 targets “by 2030 end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons”.

Africa, especially the sub-Saharan region represents one of the regions where under-nutrition is most prevalent. More specifically, a recent WHO (2013) report revealed that an estimated 160 million children under 5 years are stunted of whom 36% are in Africa alone. In addition, micronutrient malnutrition, or “hidden hunger” particularly deficiencies in Vitamin A, Iron and Iodine remain a pervasive problem in this region.

In the Africa region, underlying factors include traditional practices that may adversely affect maternal and child feeding and health & reproductive care. In addition, poor access to diversified foods, low use of fortified foods, seasonal fluctuation in food supply and diet quality limit achievement of optimal nutrition. Low agricultural productivity is mostly due to poor access to land, information and inputs to improve farm production. High daily workload for women, teenage pregnancy, too frequent births and lack of knowledge of good child care practices have also been listed as underlying factors.


A vicious cycle exists between malnutrition and diarrhoea among children; malnourished children being more susceptible to severe episodes of diarrhoea and diarrhoea in turn affecting a child’s nutrient intake and ability to absorb nutrients. Children stunted by malnutrition are not only short for their ages but their bodies and brains can incur lasting damage. Research shows that stunted children are more susceptible to disease, tend to do poorly in school, and earn less as adults than their well-nourished peers. The World Bank also estimates that malnourished children are at risk of losing more than 10% of their lifetime earning potential. Costs of Hunger in Africa studies have revealed that countries in Africa are likely losing up to 2 – 17% of their GDPs due to child undernutrition. According to the Lancet (2013) deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals have important adverse effects on child survival and development. For example, iron deficiency anemia not only impairs cognitive performance in children but also, increases the risk of death due to illness and is associated with a higher risk of mortality during pregnancy and delivery.

There is therefore likely to be slow progress towards the realization of the health, nutrition, education and economic development related Sustainable Development Goals in Africa unless the poor nutrition status of women and children is addressed.

The SUN framework

A global push for action and investment to improve maternal and child nutrition: the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement has emerged to address this critical issue. The SUN Framework calls for the implementation and scaling up of two complementary approaches;

The first one is direct effective nutrition-specific interventions, focusing on pregnant women and children under two with direct interventions such as the promotion of good nutritional practices, micronutrients, and complementary feeding. This approach is premised on the critical window of opportunity or the 1000-day period between conception to age 24 months due to the potential for nutrition interventions in this period to have a high impact. Evidence shows that proper nutrition during the 1000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday gives children a healthy start in life. Poor nutrition during this period leads to irreversible consequences such as stunted growth and impaired cognitive

The second is a broad multi-sectoral nutrition-sensitive approach that tackles the determinants of undernutrition by promoting agriculture and food security, access to and consumption of nutritious foods, social protection, care practices and access to health care. This is because tackling undernutrition is not a health sector issue per se but depends on complex linkages between the health, agriculture, welfare, education and economic development sectors.


  1. UNICEF, 2015 UNICEF Data: Monitoring the situation of children and women.

  2. World Bank, 2013

  3. African Union, NEPAD, WFP and ECA. 2013. Cost of Hunger in Africa: Social and Economic Impact of Child Undernutrition in Egypt, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Uganda.

  4. African Union, NEPAD, WFP and ECA. 2015. Cost of Hunger in Africa: Social and Economic Impact of child Undernutrition in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda.

The Health Benefits Series: West African Diet

Image Source: African Development Bank

Let’s face it; West Africans have always been very careful about what they eat, in fact, all African societies have kept their ancestor’s distinctive and original choices of food consumption. Although the colonization of West Africa and the climate change nightmare have played a great role in shaping the diet in this region, the 16 nations of West Africa have maintained a healthy diet practice even more so than most areas in the world.

The West African diet comprises of a diverse selection of foods and ways of preparing and consuming it; starches the primary filler, fish and lean meat, fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, spices and oils. Although statistics show that the Sub-Saharan Africa holds a world record for the highest percentage of the population that is malnourished their traditional diet is not to blame for this, household level food insecurity mainly linked to lack of dietary diversity.

Starch is a staple in the West African diet; it is a source of carbohydrates found in rice, couscous, cassava, and plantains among others, with yam standing as the chief crop in the region at large. These provide energy and help with weight loss by easing hunger even with less consumption and further by decreasing the fat storage in fat cells. This staple in their diet is responsible for weight and blood sugar moderation.

The warm climate and brief but extreme rainy season from June to September benefit the continuous growth of tropical fruits and vegetables. These are often served with a large helping of starch, they are never served alone unless in a dessert. This ensures that West Africans stay away from processed foods. The African mango can be found in this region and is praised for its ability to fight away obesity, decrease cholesterol and improve brain health.

Along the coastline, fish is the main source of animal based protein and the rest of the region depends on bushmeat due to beef being expensive. The other popular sources of protein are chicken, pork, mutton and goat meat; although pork is only widely eaten in areas where Islamic law is not prevalent. Protein consumption insufficient servings is still a challenge for these people but the meat they eat is often lean and low in calories and therefore keeps them away from the risks of cardiovascular illnesses. Their only source of fats is a good one, from primarily palm oil and peanuts, full of antioxidants, vitamins A and E and an array of health benefits. Although their diet is basic and starch based, West Africans could teach their neighbours and the world a thing or two about healthy eating habits.

By Siyabulela Kade