Hunger's Grip on Mothers, Children of Addis Abeba

Apr 20 , 2024
By Eden Sahle

I witnessed a scene that left me heartbroken at the health centre. Several mothers were on the line to get their children vaccinated, their faces etched with worry and their bodies visibly thin. They did not seem to have recently given birth. Their malnourished state raised a red flag – they would not have the reserves to breastfeed their newborns effectively.

Meanwhile, the cries of infants filled the air, their distress echoing the now-familiar "NEH" sound I learned during pregnancy researches. It signifies hunger in babies under four months. These full-term babies, supposedly over a month old, resembled premature newborns – tiny and frail. Approaching the mothers, I began a conversation.

The mothers confessed they could not feed their babies because they were starving. This raw honesty left me speechless, a wave of shock washing over me. Hunger, a cruel reality I could not fathom, gripped these mothers and their infants. The women sometime go days without food. When they get something, portions were meager, insufficient to nourish both them and their breastfed babies, who needed feeding every few hours.

The presence of only two fathers – mine and another man – stood out. Deprived of basic sustenance, the women had come alone for pre-vaccination process and wait in long lines.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I contrasted their situation with my own – the careful planning to ensure my well-being during breastfeeding. My heart ached for these mothers and their children. I could not imagine the agony of not being able to provide for a hungry baby, the pain of a mother unable to feed her own flesh and blood.

Medical professionals warn that food deprivation, especially during pregnancy and postpartum, can have devastating consequences for children. Stunted growth, wasting syndrome, and even life-threatening health complications lurk as potential threats. This preventable tragedy can also cause lower cognitive skills, poor academic performance, and chronic diseases, hindering a child's potential and trapping families in a cycle of poverty.

The role of balanced nutrition for expecting mothers and breastfeeding mothers, including micronutrient supplements is unparalleled. A mother's nutritional well-being is paramount for her child's lifelong health and cognitive development. Failing to meet the nutritional needs has wide-ranging consequences, impacting them physically and mentally. The devastation extends beyond families, affecting the entire nation by hindering the development of its human capital.

UNICEF data paints a grim picture. Since 2020, the number of malnourished pregnant and breastfeeding women has risen from 5.5 million to 6.9 million in Ethiopia and 11 other countries, designated by UNICEF as the "World's epicenters of hunger."

Globally, over a billion women and adolescent girls suffer from malnutrition, leaving them underweight, stunted, and anemic. This crisis, compounded by gender inequality, continues to worsen, eroding the limited progress made in recent decades. Unequal access to nutritious food disproportionately affects girls and women. In 2021, 126 million more women faced food insecurity compared to men, a staggering increase of 49 million from the previous year.

Nutrition is the bedrock of a nation's health and development. Ethiopia's low ranking on the cognitive skill index can be partly attributed to the lack of access to essential nutrients.

Ensuring access to basics requires a collaborative effort from leaders and the global community. Expanding social feeding programs for the most vulnerable populations could be a life-saving intervention. Fulfilling this fundamental need has the power to break the cycle of poor health and poverty, saving generations to come.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 20,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1251]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

N.B: A submit button will appear once you fill out all the required fields.

Editors' Pick


Fortune news