Latest News Archive

Please select Category, Year, and then Month to display items
Previous Archive
17 September 2020 | Story Prof Corina Walsh | Photo Sonia du Toit (Kaleidoscope Studios)
Prof Corinna Walsh is from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics and an NRF C-rated researcher at the University of the Free State.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the challenges of food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition that existed prior to the outbreak, but which are now affecting more individuals and households. During June 2020, three organisations – the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA), the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), and Dietetics-Nutrition is a Profession (DIP) – joined forces to call on the government to address malnutrition in all its forms. Prof Corinna Walsh from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of the Free State (UFS) is the President of the Nutrition Society of South Africa, which aims to advance the scientific study of nutrition to promote appropriate strategies for the improvement of nutrition well-being. 

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. The Coronavirus pandemic has emphasised the importance of food security and nutritional well-being for all South Africans and has exposed the vulnerability and weaknesses of our food systems. 

How big is the problem of malnutrition in South Africa and what impact has the Coronavirus had on this situation?

The call highlights that undernutrition co-exists with the rising incidence of overweight and obesity (frequently in the same household) and resultant non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension. In South Africa, more than a quarter of the female adult population is overweight and more than a third is obese; it is estimated that 269 000 NCD-related deaths occur in the country annually. Obesity and NCDs are regarded as major risk factors for COVID-19 hospital admissions and complications. Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of chronic undernutrition in children has not improved, with 27% of children under the age of five being chronically undernourished. Chronic undernutrition in children manifests as impaired growth, referred to as stunting. By the age of two, this impaired growth and deficits in development become more difficult to reverse, resulting in intellectual impairment that compromises children’s school performance and employment prospects. Chronic undernutrition in children furthermore increases their future risk of obesity and non-communicable chronic diseases in adolescence and adulthood.

Although the nutrition situation in the country had been of concern prior to the pandemic, the acute nature and vast extent of the lockdown brought the plight of individuals and communities to the forefront. In addition to hunger and food insecurity and the resultant undernutrition, the pandemic also placed a focus on non-communicable chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. These comorbidities, mostly related to overnutrition, are seen to be associated with a more severe form of COVID-19 infection, as well as an increased risk of hospitalisation and death.

 With South Africa’s current economic challenges and the rise of unemployment, is the situation of malnutrition and food insecurity bound to worsen?

Food, water, sanitation, and social security are under severe pressure due to the pandemic. All of these factors are directly related to an increased risk of malnutrition. Further underlying causes of malnutrition include poverty, unemployment, and inequality, which require interventions over the medium and long term. 

The initial hard lockdown had an immediate and acute impact on households and communities in many ways. With regard to food and nutrition, these include interrupted access to food due to restrictions on travelling and informal trading; discontinuation of food and nutrition social programmes such as the National School Nutrition Programme and feeding at early childhood development programmes; increases in food prices and food expenditure; and reduced or lost income.

The pandemic came at a time when global food security and food systems were already under strain due to natural disasters, climate change and other challenges, exacerbating the need to transform food systems to be sustainable and resilient. 

What interventions are suggested to address the problem of malnutrition?

Food relief and social relief interventions, such as food parcels and social grants, could address the more immediate needs, but broader actions are required to address the underlying causes of malnutrition. 

An important first step in the fight against malnutrition will be to recognise the severity of the situation and the need for coordinated strategic efforts to address the underlying factors that contribute to malnutrition, such as insufficient access to food, affordability of fresh foods, poor health services, and a lack of safe water and sanitation. Food security and nutrition should therefore be addressed collectively with interventions aimed at tackling these factors. It will require concerted efforts from the government, the private sector and civil society to address the immediate, underlying, and structural causes of undernutrition. In view of this, the call proposes that interventions include the following:
-           Prioritise nutrition on policy agendas related to health and social security, including a regulatory framework to support access to healthy and affordable foods. Consideration can be given to a basket of subsidised healthy foods and greater regulation of prices of basic foodstuffs.
-           Provide strategic direction and ensure coordinated and aligned programming to address food and nutrition security in collaboration with other sectors, including civil society organisations. Interventions to ensure optimal nutrition should extend beyond the health-care system and should draw on complementary sectors such as agriculture, social protection, early childhood development, education, water, and sanitation.
-           Coordinate an adequate and targeted food and social relief approach, prioritising the most vulnerable and needy for short-term mitigation. Food relief should be standardised and tailored to the nutritional needs of targeted beneficiaries, especially children. 
-           Progress towards universal health coverage to ensure access to quality, essential health care. Focus on delivery of preventive nutrition services as part of the transformation and strengthening of the health system, integrating nutrition into universal health coverage as an indispensable prerequisite for longer-term benefit.
-           Prioritise the challenges faced by specific populations, including the elderly, women (especially women of childbearing age), children, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (most notably HIV/AIDS, TB, and NCDs), drawing on local structures to identify those most in need. 
-           Implement well-funded coordinated strategies to actively address the main drivers of malnutrition, paying attention to food, nutrition, and health, backed by responsive social protection mechanisms.
-           Improve access to quality nutrition care through investment in human resources to increase the number of qualified nutrition professionals, as well as education opportunities for other cadres of workers who provide nutrition services in primary care settings. Each point of contact with the health system should be recognised as an opportunity to direct caregivers to nutrition care and support services, with efficient referral pathways between sectors.
-           Promote nutrition education of the public through targeted and relevant nutrition messaging and communication campaigns.

Opinion article by Prof Corinna Walsh of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics and an NRF C-rated researcher, University of the Free State.

 

News Archive

Top achievers arrive at UFS
2017-01-26

Description: Tshepo Thajane Tags: Tshepo Thajane

Tshepo Thajane, winner of the Kovsies
Star of Stars competition.
Photo: Eugene Seegers

Although first-year registration officially started on 23 January 2017 at the University of the Free State (UFS), the Marketing department invited some of the top-achieving matrics in the country to an event on Friday 20 January to assist them with early registration. These high-flying pupils have AP scores of 40 and above, and worked hard to get to where they are today, with driving ambition for their future.

The #StarOfStars
Tshepo ”Doctor” Thajane is the winner of the newly-established Kovsies Star of Stars competition, and as such received a full bursary from the UFS, among other sponsorships. He has enrolled in Actuarial Sciences and will be housed at the Karee residence. When asked what drew him to our university, he responds: “I just loved the university before I entered it, and I chose the UFS because of the respect I was shown.”

Friendly reception
Lendl Ontong will be pursuing his LLB in the Faculty of Law, and has obtained a place in the brotherhood of the Karee residence. The Ontong family hails from Worcester in the Western Cape. Lendl’s father, Mr Lionel Ontong, had this to say of his experience: “The staff at the UFS, especially at the admissions office, is the friendliest group of people I’ve ever come across, and helpful as well. My wife was sceptical when I told her about the friendly treatment I experienced when I phoned the university, but when she witnessed it today, she could see it first-hand. The friendliness is contagious, and even though I’m tired after the long journey, their attitude has rubbed off on me. And my wife now has the assurance that her child is going to be happy here. The atmosphere is one of homeliness. It’s fantastic! Even the netball coach introduced herself to my son and invited him to pop in for a cup of tea, and she won’t even be involved with his university journey. It meant a lot to us as parents.”

Description: Jani Gerber  Tags: Jani Gerber

Jani Gerber and her dad Jaco Gerber.
Photo: Eugene Seegers

Runs in the family

Jani Gerber is a second-generation Kovsie who hails from Port Elizabeth. She won the cultural division in the Matriculant of the Year competition in 2016 and was invited to join the UFS. According to her, she “didn’t even consider another university”.

Her dad, Mr Jaco Gerber, says: “The whole process of application and registration was very efficient and professional. Jani’s older sister, Anri, completed her MBChB at UFS last year and is currently working at the Pelonomi Regional Hospital. Jani has already been adopted by new friends in her residence. She says, “Some charming students welcomed us at the residence, and even helped out when we were unpacking.” Jani has aspirations to sing in the annual Stagedoor and Serenade Singoff competitions.

We welcome all our first-years and look forward to supporting them throughout their university journey!

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.

Accept