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With Food Scarce in Zimbabwe, Malnutrition on Rise

Malnutrition is becoming more widespread in Zimbabwe as food shortages intensify. Hospital doctors in Harare, the capital, report a sharp increase in patients suffering from malnutrition-related ailments, while health care workers in Bulawayo say they are seeing many more undernourished children as food costs soar out of reach.

Health care professionals say the government’s May-July slum-clearance drive, which left several hundred thousand people homeless, has exacerbated the situation.

A number of factors have contributed to the country’s food security and health crisis: a regional drought, a general shortage of foreign exchange to purchase grain outside the country, the collapse of the agricultural sector after years of radical land reform in which experienced and mainly white commercial farmers were driven off the soil, and a range of economic policies which failed to sustain manufacturing and other sectors.

Health professionals said the impact of food shortages is greatest among people living with HIV-AIDS who need proper nourishment to resist the wasting disease.

Meanwhile, many inhabitants of rural areas have resorted to gathering wild fruits and tubers for nourishment given the scarcity of the traditional staple of maize meal.

Physician Takaruda Chinyoka of Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, the capital, said it is becoming more and more difficult to deal with the rising caseload of patients who are suffering from conditions whose underlying cause is improper nourishment.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Dr. Chinyoka about the health effects of widespread malnutrition.

Deputy Health Minister Edwin Muguti acknowledged that cases of malnutrition are on the rise – but blamed the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Great Britain in particular, and the European Union as a whole.

However, critics say that the government has much to answer for in the crisis, pointing to land reform, its economic policies, and Operation Murambatsvina, which deprived many of their livelihood. Beyond this the government has been unwilling to formally request food assistance from the international community.

The World Food Program for the past six months has been urging Harare to formally request food aid so that WFP administrators could appeal to donor nations. More recently, the United Nations office for humanitarian relief issued a unilateral appeal to donors, having failed to secure Harare’s co-sponsorship.

Carole Gombakomba asked Dr. Muguti to outline the government’s position.

In the country’s second city of Bulawayo, meanwhile, many mothers facing higher prices for bread and baby formula are no longer making breakfast for their children or have begun to feed them less expensive – but also less nutritional – substitutes.

Studio 7 correspondent Masautso Banda talked to health professionals who said child diets are deteriorating and that child malnutrition is on the rise in Matabeleland.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...