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I wish my mum took folic acid

In spite Caroline Wanjiru being confined to a wheelchair due to spina bifida, she refuses to depend on others.

The 21-year-old who lives in Kawangware with her grandmother is sporty and is the defending champion of the women category in the 21km Stanchart Wheelchair Marathon.

Her disability would have been avoided if her mother, now deceased, would have taken folic acid when she was pregnant.

Folic acid deficiency in pregnant women is associated with heart defects, placental abnormalities and spinal defects such as spinal bifida.

Split spine

Spina bifida means split spine and it happens in the womb where the bones of the spine do not form properly around part of the baby’s spinal cord.

“I will make sure that my kids do not lack the essential micro-nutrients for their normal development while in the womb,” said the part-time IT student.

Alarmed by the growing number of babies born with birth defects due to nutrient deficiencies, the government has initiated campaigns to avert the problem.

The Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation is running pilot projects in Kariobangi and Ongata Rongai to supply residents with supplements of folic acid.

Gladys Mugambi who works at the ministry’s department of Health and Nutrition said the pilot project is monitoring the systems in place and their efficiency.

“We are supplying vitamin A sachets in supermarkets with the hope that buyers will add them in their meals and overcome nutrient deficiencies,” she said during a workshop on food fortification.

Among the foods that were discussed include cooking oils, wheat and maize flours.

Fortification is the process of adding essential trace elements and vitamins to foods.

Last year, the government made it mandatory for millers to fortify flours and Mrs Mugambi said so far, 144 of them have complied.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (Gain) and Orange House Partnership (a non-profit organisation for development cooperation) have come up with kits to detect certain minerals in foods.

Gain country director Adan Kabelo said the kits will analyse the presence of specific minerals and vitamins in fortified foods.

“The kits will come in handy when regulatory bodies are monitoring foods that are stocked in local stores including cooking oils and flour,” said Mr Kabelo.