Despite recent growth in personal wealth and the national economy, more than half of Cape Verde’s under-five children still suffer from iron deficiency, which results from malnutrition and infectious diseases. A major cause of anaemia – a condition caused by a lack of oxygen to organs and body tissues – iron deficiency can lead to foetal development problems, cognitive defects, infection in young children and limited physical capacity in all people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Fifty-two percent of under-five children on the island country had anaemia in 2005, versus 70 percent in 1996, according to the government and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Calling a lack of nutrients a “hidden hunger”, the non-profit Micronutrient Initiatives estimates that two million children a year die worldwide from lack of nutrients such as Vitamin A, zinc and folic acid.
According to a 2005 government survey, almost one-third of women in Cape Verde aged 15 to 49 and more than 40 percent of pregnant women were anaemic. As measured by their diets and access to food, 8,500 rural families – out of a half-million population – were classified as food-insecure in a 2006 government survey.
The island of Santo Antão – home to terraced valleys of sugar cane and banana trees – had some of the highest rates of malnutrition.
A farmer in the agricultural valley of Manuel Riberio on Santo Antão, who gave his name as Fokou, told IRIN that while he grows enough to feed his family and sell at a market located one hour away by boat, islanders who live farther in the mountains have a harder time selling and buying food.
“For them it is not so easy to get to the market. Mostly it is women and old men – all of the young men have gone.” More Cape Verdeans live overseas than in the country, according to the government.
The farmer added that on most days his family eats potatoes, sweet potatoes and chick peas. “For a special treat, we eat rice and fish.” One of Micronutrient Initiative’s directors in Africa, Banda Ndiaye, told IRIN this diet lacks sufficient iron. “Most cases of anaemia happen because of poor diets, in addition to poor hygiene and infections.”
There are 10 licensed nutritionists working at hospitals and health centres on four of Cape Verde’s nine inhabited islands, according to the Ministry of Health. For patients in remote areas, Cristina Cedeño – who coordinates Cuban doctors working in Cape Verde – told IRIN it is hard to relocate sick islanders to get care for health complications. The country lacks a medical school and relies on foreign doctors.
Ministry of Health nutritionist Rosa Semedo told IRIN reducing anaemia will require a concerted effort by specialists in education, health and agriculture.
In Cape Verde, the government provides most primary school children and women in their final trimester of pregnancy and two months following childbirth iron pills at no cost, according to the Ministry of Health.
The ministry recently signed an agreement with the national flour producer to fortify its product with folic acid and iron.
Cape Verde’s government has pledged to take over a decades-long school feeding programme funded by the World Food Programme (WFP), which is scheduled to end its school lunch support in 2010.
The government is currently updating 2005 anaemia data, according to the Ministry of Health.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions