The education and health ministries have launched a joint campaign to combat obesity, anaemia and stunting among school students.
In a press conference earlier this week Minister of Education Tarek Shawki and the Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed said the campaign had been designed to detect and treat a number of diseases prevalent among students aged between six and 12 years old.
The campaign targets 11.5 million primary students at 22,000 schools across Egypt. Pupils will be screened for anaemia, obesity and nutritional stunting and, where appropriate, referred for medical treatment.
The campaign will be rolled out in three stages.
“Medical examination of students requires parental consent. Should consent be withheld parents will be obliged to have their child examined at a designated Health Ministry hospital and hand in the examination results,” said Shawki.
The campaign grew out of a much smaller initiative that involved examining 500 children.
The results, says Shawki, were alarming: they revealed high levels of anaemia, obesity and stunting among school children and led to a wider campaign against all three health issues being incorporated in President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s “One Million Health” campaign, one of the planks of Egypt’s 2030 vision.
According to Shawki, examination days will be considered a sports day, where there will be lectures to raise students’ and teachers’ awareness of these diseases, harms of malnutrition and benefits of healthy diet.
Teams comprised of a doctor, three nurses, a lab technician, and a data entry specialist will be responsible for at least 10 schools, said Shawki. The campaign will include endocrinologists and paediatricians.
Health Ministry Spokesman Khaled Megahed says the survey results will allow the government to identify and combat nutritional deficiencies among school-aged children.
Demographic health surveys revealed that there is around a 16 per cent prevalence of stunting among children until the age of 12 years.
“We aim to reduce the percentage to 15 per cent by next year which is very challenging,” says Megahed.
Also, demographic health surveys revealed that obesity is a growing problem, particularly among girls.
Six per cent of female students between 10 and 19 years are overweight, and 20 per cent are at risk of being obese.
The figures for anaemia are even more alarming, with more than 61 per cent of primary stage school students at risk.
The initiative will target the remaining stages of school next year, so as not to miss any of the students, added Megahed.
Bruno Mae, UNICEF’s representative in Egypt, who praised the initiative, said that even though child mortality rates in Egypt are decreasing, malnutrition has been on the increase for two decades.
UNICEF, says Mae, has been working with the Egyptian government to combat malnutrition in Egypt, cooperating with the government in defining reasons of malnutrition as well as dealing with its consequences. This is in addition to developing a national plan for healthy nutrition.
The first phase of the screening runs from 17 to 28 February in the governorates of Fayoum, Damietta, Assiut, Marsa Matrouh, Port Said, South Sinai, Qalioubiya, Beheira, Alexandria, Qena and Giza.
The second phase will take place from 1 to 20 March in Cairo, Suez, Ismailia, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Menoufiya, Beni Sweif, Sohag, North Sinai, the Red Sea, Aswan and Luxor, and the third will be carried out from 21 March to 10 April in Daqahliya, Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Minya and the New Valley governorates.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Saving the children