Homegrown Biofortified Foods at Your Doorstep

Micronutrient malnutrition which is commonly referred to as “hidden hunger” affects over 2 billion people globally. Millions of children in Africa are affected by hidden hunger which affects their physical and mental development. Adequate intake of micronutrients particularly iron, Vitamin A, iodine and Zinc from conception till 2 years of age is vital for the optimal growth and development of children. It is equally important that pregnant women receive adequate quantities of these micronutrients in their diet or through dietary supplementation. For example, in pregnant women vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality.

Vitamin A and Iron Deficiency are the leading cause of preventable blindness and anemia respectively among children. If Vitamin A deficiency is severe, it can result into increased risk of disease and death. Severe zinc deficiency has been associated with stunting of growth, impaired immunity, skin disorders and learning disabilities. Evidence also shows that zinc deficient children are at increased risk of developing diarrheal diseases, as well as respiratory tract infections. Iodine deficiency is the main cause of brain damage in childhood. It results in impaired cognitive and motor development which affects a child’s performance at school.

Developing countries have for a long time depended on tablet-based approaches such as Vitamin A capsules, iron tablets and food fortification using micronutrient sprinkles. But food based approaches are now considered the most feasible and sustainable approaches for addressing micronutrient deficiency in the long term. Through advancements in agro-research and development, the nutritional content of certain crops can be increased to make micronutrients such as Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc widely available and affordable to consumers. In a process known as “biofortification”, food crops are bred to biofortify themselves by loading higher levels of minerals and vitamins in their seeds and roots while they are growing.

Due to the efforts of various governments, NGO and private sector actors in Africa, these foods are becoming more accessible for families that need them the most and demand and awareness for them is also increasing. Various varieties are continuously being developed and provided to farmers to cater to consumer’s preferences regarding taste, climate adaptability, yield and texture. Biofortified foods to look out for near you include: iron beans and vitamin A cassava in DRC, vitamin A cassava and vitamin A maize in Nigeria, iron beans in Rwanda, vitamin A sweet potato and iron beans in Uganda and vitamin A maize in Zambia. These biofortified crops prevent rather than treat micronutrient deficiencies and can provide from 50% – 80% of a woman or child’s daily needs. They represent a new frontier in the struggle against hidden hunger in Africa.

Useful resources: http://www.harvestplus.org/content/crops

Cervical Cancer: Africa’s Silent Epidemic

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among females worldwide with over 200,000 deaths annually. According to WHO AFRO, about 70,000 cases of cervical cancer are reported each year in Africa. According to WHO, Africa experiences the highest number of new cases of, and deaths from, cervical cancer in a year. In sub-Saharan Africa cervical cancer affects mostly women in the 20-40 year age group. Risk factors for cervical cancer can broadly be categorized as follows:

Social-cultural factors.

The greater the number of sexual partners a woman has, the higher the risk of HPV infection. Therefore, women who limit their number of male sexual partners have a lower risk of cervical cancer. In Africa, HPV is endemic and poses a very high risk for cervical cancer. Early marriages, especially of young girls to much older men, increase the likelihood of a girl catching HPV at first intercourse,

Biological factors.

Poor nutritional status and infections such as HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) have compromised the immune systems of many individuals. Subsequently, this makes them more susceptible to diseases. Furthermore, HIV-positive women tend to have the advanced stage disease, resistance to therapy and shortened survival

Health system factors

Poor health services are another serious concern for the increased risk of cervical cancer. A lack of an effective screening program aimed at detecting and treating pre-cancerous conditions is a key reason for the much higher cervical cancer incidence in developing countries. Screening programs for cervical cancer in Africa are often undeveloped or non‐existent, thereby affecting the survival rate of women. A vast majority of women who suffer from cervical cancer in SSA present with the disease advanced far beyond the capacity of surgery or other treatment options to offer cure.

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers. Unlike most other cancers it is cost-effective to screen for precursor (pre-cancerous) lesions and then treat them before they develop into cancer. Primary intervention entails prevention of HPV infection. This includes abstinence, mutual monogamy, condom use and use of vaccines. HPV vaccines need to be given prior to contact with the virus that is before sexual debut. HPV vaccines should be targeted towards adolescents aged 10 to 13 years.

Secondary intervention entails screening of the cervix using a Pap smear test. Women found with abnormal smears are referred for a colposcopy and once diagnosis is confirmed, treatment is advised.

Typhoid Fever Advisory

What is typhoid fever?

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  • Typhoid fever is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi.
  • It is spread through water and food sources that have been contaminated with faecal material containing Salmonella Typhi bacteria.
  • Symptoms include high grade fever of 39 to 40 degrees Celsius, stomach pains, weakness, headache, loss of appetite and a rash of flat rose coloured spots on the chest in severe cases. Symptoms usually develop 1 – 3 weeks after exposure.
  • It is diagnosed after a stool sample or blood is tested for the presence of Salmonella Typhi. It is treatable in mild cases but can be life-threatening in severe cases.
  • If one suffers from typhoid fever and recovers, he or she may still continue to carry the bacteria even after the symptoms have disappeared (carrier).

How can one prevent typhoid fever?

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  • Drinking safe water:
    Contaminated drinking water is a particular problem in areas where typhoid fever is endemic. For that reason, drink only bottled water or water that has been transported and /or stored in clean containers and properly treated by boiling or chemical disinfection.
  • Eating foods that are thoroughly cooked and still hot and steaming
    : Avoid food that’s stored or served at room temperature. Hot, steaming food is best.
  • Avoiding eating raw fruits and vegetables if they cannot be well washed, peeled or cooked
    : This is because raw produce may have been washed in unsafe water, avoid fruits and vegetables that you can’t peel and/or cook (Cook it, Peel it or Leave it!).
  • Avoiding foods and beverages from street vendors
    : Food and juices from street vendors are more likely to be contaminated.
  • Practice regular hand washing
    : Wash hands with soap and water before eating or preparing food and after using the toilet. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for times when water is not available
  • Proper disposal of feces
    using latrines/toilets.
  • Vaccination:
    Protective for 3 years. The typhoid vaccine is not 100% effective (limited protection) and is therefore not a substitute for proper hygiene and sanitation practices.

AVOID INFECTING OTHERS

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If you’re recovering from typhoid fever, these measures can help keep others safe:

  • Take your antibiotics.
    Follow your health worker’s instructions for taking your antibiotics, and be sure to finish the entire prescription.
  • Wash your hands often.
    This is the single most important thing you can do to keep from spreading the infection to others. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 30 seconds, especially before eating and after using the toilet.
  • Avoid handling food.
    Avoid preparing food for others until your health worker says you are no longer contagious.

TREATMENT FOR TYPHOID FEVER

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  • Antibiotic therapy
    : is the only effective treatment for typhoid fever.
  • Drinking fluids
    : This helps prevent the dehydration that results from prolonged fever. If you’re severely dehydrated, you may need to receive fluids intravenously.
  • Surgery:
    If there is intestinal perforation, surgery is needed to repair the perforation (hole).

Your Guide to Childhood Immunization

Vaccination against childhood illnesses is an integral part of national public health programs globally. Vaccination programs not only reduce the incidence of diseases, but also mitigate the social and economic burden of diseases in communities. Very high immunisation coverage levels can lead to complete blocking of transmission for many preventable diseases.

Due to increasingly effective national expanded programs for immunisation across Africa, the region has been able to reduce measles mortality by 88% since 2000 and only one country remains endemic for the poliovirus (WHO AFRO, 2015).

Early immunisation of infants and completion of the full schedule of recommended vaccinations based on your country’s guidelines contributes to reducing illness and death among children. New vaccines can now protect against pneumonia and diarrhea two of the leading causes of death among children aged less than five in Africa.

In the table below, we have summarized information on vaccine preventable childhood illnesses, with corresponding standard immunization schedules from birth to 18 years.

Vaccine Preventable Childhood disease Brief description Vaccine & Vaccination schedule Minimum age for first dose
Diptheria Caused by a bacterial toxin which causes a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat that makes it hard to breathe or swallow. DTP-HepB-Hib or Pentavalent (5 in 1 vaccine)

Given at
6, 10 and 14 weeks of age

6 weeks (or first contact after that age)
Hepatitis B A liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. Adults usually spread it through sex or sharing needles. A pregnant woman can pass it to
her baby. Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV.
DTP-HepB-Hib or Pentavalent (5 in 1 vaccine)

Given at
6, 10 and 14 weeks of age

6 weeks (or first contact after that age)
Hepatitis B vaccine

Given
at any age, as four doses over 12 months – a baby born to a mother infected with hepatitis B will be offered a dose at birth, one month of
age, two months of age and one year of age

Birth
(Hib) Haemophilus influenzae type B A bacterial disease that infects the lungs (pneumonia), brain or spinal cord (meningitis), blood, bone, or joints.

Some people have Hib bacteria in their nose or throat but are not ill. When they cough or sneeze, the bacteria go airborne. Babies and
young children are especially at risk because their immune systems are weak.

DTP-HepB-Hib or Pentavalent (5 in 1 vaccine)

Given at
6, 10 and 14 weeks of age

6 weeks(or first contact after that age)
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) A lung infection that makes it hard to breathe due to severe coughing. People can breathe in the pertussis bacteria when someone who has
whooping cough coughs or sneezes.It can be life-threatening, especially in babies less than 1 year old.
DTP-HepB-Hib or Pentavalent (5 in 1 vaccine)

Given
at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age

6 weeks(or first contact after that age)
Pneumococcal disease A bacterial disease that can cause many types of illness, including pneumonia, ear and blood infections, and meningitis (which affects the
brain and spinal cord). It is transmitted through contact with an infected person’s mucus or saliva.Complications can be serious and fatal especially in children
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)

Given
at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age

6 weeks(or first contact after that age)
Meningococcal disease A bacterial disease that can cause meningitis, an infection and swelling of the brain and spinal cord. It can also infect the blood.

It’s caused by bacteria that live in the back of an infected person’ nose and throat. Symptoms are usually fever that starts suddenly,
headache, and stiff neck.

Meningococcal conjugate A (MenA)

Given at: two months, four months and 12 months of age

6 weeks
Polio Polio is a viral disease. The polio virus lives in the intestines and is spread from person to person through contact with contaminated
feces.Most people get no symptoms or experience mild flu-like symptoms that last a few days, but polio can cause brain infection, paralysis,
disability and death.
Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV)

At birth or within the first two weeks, then at six weeks or first contact after six weeks

Birth

 

Inactivated Polio vaccine(IPV)

Given at 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months, and a booster dose at 4-6 years

8 weeks
Rotavirus Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in infants and young children. Rotavirus vaccine

Given at: 6 and 10 weeks

6 weeks
Rubella Children whose mothers have rubella during the early stages of pregnancy often contract congenital rubella

syndrome (CRS). Children with CRS are born with lifelong disabilities and are at risk for other developmental

problems such as congenital heart disease and mental retardation

Measles, Mumps& Rubella vaccine

Given at:
12-13 months and at three years and four months of age, or sometime thereafter

Measles A highly contagious lung infection that is caused by a virus. The measles virus gets into the air when someone who has it coughs or
sneezes.Measles can cause pneumonia, brain swelling, and death.
Measles vaccine

Given at 9 months

9 months

 

Measles, Mumps & Rubella vaccine. Given at 12-13 months and at three years and four months of age, or sometime
thereafter
12 months
Mumps Caused by a virus. Symptoms include swollen salivary glands, fever, headache, and muscle aches. When someone with mumps coughs or sneezes,
the virus gets into the air, and other people can breathe it in. It can cause meningitis and deafness.
Measles, Mumps & Rubella vaccine

Given at
12-13 months and at three years and four months of age, or sometime thereafter

12 months
Tetanus A bacterial disease that causes lockjaw, breathing problems, muscle spasms, paralysis, and death.

The bacteria that causes tetanus is found in soil, dust, and manure/animal dung. Mothers and newborns are at risk of contracting tetanus
where deliveries happen in unhygienic conditions.10% to 20% of tetanus cases are fatal.

DTP-HepB-Hib or Pentavalent(5 in 1 vaccine)

Given
at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age

6 weeks
Tuberculosis TB is a disease that typically attacks the lungs. BCG Vaccine

Given
from birth to 16 years of age

Birth
Human Papilloma Virus HPV vaccine(Girls only)

Given at 10-13 years at first contact, then 4 weeks after and then five months after that

At first contact, girls aged 10 years