While low birth weight (LBW) is a preventable public health problem, an analysis by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlights that the prevalence of low birth weight (LBW) in Botswana is still very high. The report highlights that the proportion of low birth weight in newborns in Botswana as of 2015 was the highest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region at 15.6% followed by Namibia with 15.5% and Lesotho in third at 14.6%.These findings concur with a working paper entitled “Prenatal Care Utilization and Infant Health in Botswana” written by David Mmopelwa which suggests that the quality of prenatal care might be part of the reasons to blame for low birth weight.
“However, previous reviews of administrative data on maternal mortality suggest that there were issues of substandard care, including delayed referrals, intervention and inappropriate management (Republic of Botswana, 2013, 2015). While we have not been able to control for the activities performed during care visits due to data limitation, results call for an enhanced audit of the quality of care as it could seemingly, be among the major contributors,” states part of his research by Mmopelwa, PhD candidate in the School of Economics at the University of Nottingham.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) highlighted that between 2000 and 2007, the proportion of low birth weight infants in Botswana rose from 8% to 13% and was regarded as one of the highest in the region and upper middle-income countries. The FAO State of Food Security and nutrition in the World now shows that the proportion of low birth weight in infants is not showing any signs of abating and has increased by over 90 percent since 2000. Among other things, the analysis shows that Botswana not only has the 5th highest proportion of low birth weight infants in Africa, but it is the highest in the SADC region.
Low birth weight is defined by the WHO as weight at birth less than 2500grams. Low birth weight continues to be a significant public health problem globally and is associated with a range of both short- and long term consequences and may have difficulties eating, gaining weight and fighting off infections. Overall, it is estimated that almost 15% of all births worldwide are low birth weight, representing more than 15 million births a year. In 2012, countries committed to a 30% reduction of low birthweights by 2025 as one of the Global Nutrition targets.
In his reaction to these findings, Grain and cereal researcher, Lakayana Sepapi said there is need for policymakers to “put into focus the effectiveness of care in Botswana.” There are currently 8 global nutrition targets to be met by 2025, one of which is to achieve a 30% reduction in low birth weight. “There is a slim chance that Botswana will meet this target as well as other 7 malnutrition targets,” says Sepapi, adding that this has been collaborated by UNICEF in their 2020 Global Nutrition Report.
Low birth weight is usually an essential marker of maternal and fetal health, predicting mortality, stunting, and adult-onset chronic conditions. Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia still lead globally in terms of the proportion of low birthweights.