Interventions have dramatically improved child nutrition – Govt

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government, in responding to a United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report that painted an unflattering picture of Guyana’s child nutrition status, has revealed that it has in fact dramatically improved child nutrition between 2020 and 2024 and that the report used outdated data.

UNICEF published its report titled ‘Child Food Poverty-Nutrition deprivation in early childhood’, earlier this month. In the report, it was claimed that 20 per cent of children in Guyana are in severe food poverty.

However, in a recent statement, the Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Ministry debunked this, noting that the UNICEF report used data from Guyana that came from the 2019 and 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) reports.

“These 2019 and 2014 figures were also being compared to data going back as far as 2000 to assume trends. As a result, the findings of the report are regrettably inaccurate,” the Ministry said.

Another factor working against Guyana, is the fact that the report considers data from five year and 10-year-old reports. However, because the report was published this year, Guyana was consistently listed as a ‘High income country’ in the datasets that were published.

“This is an undoubtedly unfair and flawed analysis, as in 2019 Guyana was considered by the World Bank to be an upper middle-income country and in 2014, long before the onset of oil revenues, Guyana was classified on the World Bank’s economic index as a lower middle-income country,” the Ministry explained.

“This cannot be ignored, as economic classifications in surveys are generally intended to aggregate and analyse data from groups of similar economies or similar countries… therefore it is fair to say that utilisation of dated statistics in tandem with an up-to-date income classification without adequate consideration for the significant economic shifts that have occurred over the past four years inherently places Guyana at a disadvantage.”

Another concern raised by the Ministry is the report’s lack of consideration for Guyana’s cultural diversity, which extends to food. According to the Ministry, the report did not adequately consider the nuances of diets in countries such as Guyana, noting that social-cultural variances while differing from other parts of the world, do not always mean bad.

“UNICEF, like many other UN agencies, relies extensively on data that they have collected themselves. This practice intentionally disregards the availability of more up-to-date administrative data in national agencies. For example, the Ministry of Health through its various programmes, including its epidemiological unit, has been able to provide current data in compilation of various reports at the local level.”

“However, such administrative data is regrettably not considered in the compilation of reports such as the 2014 and 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, as these rely wholly on data that UNICEF itself collects through surveys they conduct locally.”

Guyana’s approachIn Guyana, the PPP/C Government has introduced a number of initiatives to ensure the country’s children are properly fed. The Ministry of Education’s National School Feeding Programme is targeting some 126,000 students in 2024 for which some $4.9 billion was budgeted.

Last year, some 85,000 school children benefitted from this initiative.

This school Feeding programme targets all nursery schools and all primary Schools in Grades 1 and 2. It is implemented in Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, 10 and in Georgetown, where children are given locally made biscuits and juices. Regions Seven, Eight and Nine are targeted separately.

Under this initiative, the National Breakfast Programme was also launched in 2022, providing a daily meal to Grade Six students along the coastal regions that are Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and 10.

These programmes are in addition to the Education Ministry’s Hot Meal Programme which serves meals to primary and primary top students in Regions One (Barima-Waini); Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Three (Essequibo Islands -West Demerara), Five (Mahaica-Berbice), Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), Nine, and 10.

UNICEF defines child food poverty as children’s inability to access and consume a nutritious and diverse diet in early childhood. It said children living in severe child food poverty are missing out on many nutrient-rich foods, while unhealthy foods are becoming entrenched in the diets of these children.

Globally, one in four children are living in severe child food poverty in early childhood, amounting to 181 million children under five years of age, the report states.

According to UNICEF, children who receives 0–2 food groups per day are living in severe child food poverty; 3–4 food groups per day are living in moderate child food poverty, and 5 or more food groups per day are not living in child food poverty.

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, there is a 38 per cent of total child food poverty prevalence. The report had stated that the LAC region has the lowest percentage of children living in severe child food poverty with country estimates ranging from as low as three per cent in Costa Rica to 32 per cent in Haiti.