Dodoma, TANZANIA – Adolescents in Tanzania comprise nearly 20% of the population. Harnessing their potential is critical for the country’s social and economic development, yet they are faced with many challenges including high rates of child marriage, pregnancy and malnutrition.
Confronted with these challenges, the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children convened the first National Accelerated Action Plan and Investment Agenda for Adolescent Health and Wellbeing Conference in Dodoma from September 8-10. The conference brought together adolescent representatives from Tanzania’s 31 regions and aimed to address the six big issues that the country’s adolescents face: teenage marriage and pregnancy, poor nutrition, school dropout rates, sexual, physical and physiological violence, HIV and AIDS, and a lack of meaningful employment opportunities.
As part of the conference, Nutrition International held a session on adolescent nutrition using the With Good Nutrition She’ll Grow Into It campaign to guide the program. Laureta Lucas, a Nutrition International technical expert, delivered a presentation on why health and good nutrition are so important for adolescents, and how being well-nourished can help them in their daily lives. The discussion was then handed over to the 31 adolescent girls and boys, who were given a platform to speak about their dreams for the future, and the difficulties they face in reaching their goals.
“I want to be a surgeon,” said 18-year old Mariam. “There are few surgeons in my country. Unfortunately, poor education in developing countries such as Tanzania is a big challenge to my ambitions. Schools should provide balanced diets to retain students in class and to enable them to achieve their career dreams.”
This was an opportunity for the country’s young people not only to share their goals, but to devise concrete actions that leaders can take to break down barriers in the country. The result was a statement agreed to by all 31 adolescents in attendance which proposed practical solutions to improve the lives of the country’s young and growing population. Their recommendations included improving health and nutrition services in schools, further integration of adolescent nutrition in health services, and using the latest technology to reach adolescents with behaviour change communications.
This statement was presented to Prime Minister Hon Kassim Majaliwa during Tanzania’s 5th Joint Multisectoral Nutrition Review (JMNR), which was held in Dodoma immediately following the adolescent conference.
The two-day meeting for the JMNR brought together department ministers, members of parliament, Scaling Up Nutrition networks, and nutrition partners under the theme of “Towards an Industrialized Economy: Good Nutrition is Fundamental in Sustaining Human Economic Capital Development.” The importance of prioritizing nutrition was a key topic, as well as increasing food fortification, adolescent nutrition, the need to involve men in nutrition interventions, and progress in reduction of stunting.
Tanzania has had some success in combatting malnutrition, having reduced stunting rates from 42% in 2010 to 34% in 2015. Notwithstanding these gains, leaders urged all stakeholders to remain focused on reducing stunting for the close to 2.7 million currently affected.
“The government recognizes good nutrition as a firm foundation for the nation. We will put in place a high-level steering committee on nutrition to reach our goal of involving all stakeholders in nutrition matters,” said Prime Minister Hon Majaliwa. “To achieve industrial development, nutrition is the foundation of a strong workforce.”
In September 2017, the Government of Tanzania launched the National Multi-sectoral Nutrition Action Plan. The five-year action plan, which looks to build on past successes and address gaps that currently exist in the country’s fight against malnutrition, was developed with support from Nutrition International’s Technical Assistance for Nutrition project, funded by DFID, and in close collaboration with partners including UNICEF and the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre.