The Ministry of Health has opened a new laboratory to test hidden forms of malnutrition. According to Dr. Daniel Kyabayinze, the Director of Public Health in the Ministry, the Butabika-based laboratory will use biomarkers to test ingredients in the body, which show the available levels of vitamins and minerals to make treatment decisions.
Multi-nutrients such as vitamins E, A, and C provide antioxidants that strengthen the immune system and help the body fight against infection. The vitamins are available in foods like milk, grains, fruits, and vegetables but experts at the ministry say the burden of people living with multi-nutrient deficiencies is bigger than estimated.
They say a lot of people live with the problem unknowingly until they develop severe and sometimes life-threatening complications. According to Dr. Samalie Namukose, the Assistant Commissioner in Charge of Nutrition, many times they have had to fly samples to Germany or China for multi-nutrient deficiency analysis since this service is not readily available in many African Countries.
Until now she says they have been using hemoglobin level tests to determine people battling anemia and have found the burden to be as big as over 30% among women of reproductive age and 50% among children below five years.
She says this burden could be higher as they have now been exposed to more specific testing, which will give them more accurate data as the technical team has gone through training preceding the opening of the lab.
In her remarks, Dr. Laetitia Ouedraogo, the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Regional Adviser on Nutrition and Food Safety who was part of the team of experts from ten countries who visited the laboratory on Thursday, said this lab comes in handy as only two countries have been assessed to have such capacity on the continent.
She says this innovation will offer other countries in the region an opportunity to have samples tested from Uganda than flying them to Europe or other continents, which comes with additional costs. She says specifically, the WHO is concerned about testing for trans fatty acids with the raising crisis of obesity and yet the capacity to do such tests is still very low.