Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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Highest prevalence of malnutrition in South Asia

June 25, 2012
© Daily News

The South Asia region, including, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka has the highest prevalence of malnutrition in the world. There are 336 million people chronically hungry in South Asia. With a prevalence of child malnutrition estimated at over 46 percent of children in the age group 0-5 years, the prevalence is much higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa which is 26 percent.

Issues, such as, the one mentioned above, were discussed by participants at the South Asian Regional Knowledge Forum to encourage the world community to provide innovative ideas and timely intervention to save the lives of around one billion children suffering from chronic hunger.

Around 100 leaders from civil society, government, international development, academia, and other key groups working on nutrition issues from across the region participated at the two-day event titled ‘sharing lessons from community experiences and improving infant and young child nutrition’ held in Kathmandu, Nepal recently was jointly organized by the World Bank, UNICEF and South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiatives (SAFANSI) to discuss about a framework for country level action for scaling up nutrition and evidence -based cost-effective interventions and multi-sectoral approach for combating malnutrition.

Economic growth

World Bank's South Asia Region Sector Manager for Health, Nutrition and Population Julie McLaughlin said GDP lost to malnutrition in many developing countries can be as high as two to three percent. Malnutrition slows economic growth and perpetuates poverty through direct loses in productivity from poor physical status and indirect losses from poor cognitive function, deficits, schooling and losses owing to increased health costs. “Direct investments in nutrition have the potential to improve nutrition outcomes much faster than economic growth alone can. Improving nutrition increases economic growth and reduces income poverty through three routes. Bigger and healthier bodies lead to higher physical productivity. Well-nourished children are more intelligent, better learners in school, and more productive as adults. And well nourished populations spend less on health care, freeing resources for investment and growth. The economic benefits from improving nutrition are substantial - for individuals they average at least 10 percent of lifetime earnings, and for economies they can make a difference of two-three percent of GDP,” she said.

South Asia has the highest rate of malnutrition, making it the single largest cause of child mortality in the region. Underweight children account for over 33 percent in Afghanistan, 41 percent in Bangladesh, 43 percent in India, 39 percent in Nepal, 31 percent in Pakistan and 22 percent in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the malnutrition remains the single largest cause of child mortality in the South Asia region. More than one third of all child deaths are due to malnutrition, mostly because malnutrition increases the likelihood of dying from other diseases. In South Asia, 72 children are born each minute. Twenty nine percent malnourished children will not reach their full growth and cognitive potential due to an inadequate diet.

Participants from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal highlighted how despite economic growth in the region, two thirds of all children suffering from malnutrition were South Asians. The malnutrition is a crisis with devastating and far-reaching effects, which is robbing millions of children of their full potential for growth and development.

Nutritional security is more than just food security. It is the outcome of good health, a healthy environment and good caring practices. However, despite good economic growth in several South Asian countries, there has been insufficient progress in reducing under-nutrition in recent years. More than a third of children under five years of age in East and South Asia are stunted. Eighteen percent of babies are born with a birth weight that is too low. Twenty seven percent of under fives weigh too little for their age. Thirteen percent of under fives are wasted, while nearly half of pregnant women and pre-school children are anemic.

Good nutritional practices

All partners highlighted lessons and promising approaches to scale up nutrition and especially measures to tackle malnutrition in the region. During the workshop, special attention has also given to working with media on malnutrition reduction.

The initiatives includes a large number of actions and practices that have already taken by South Asian countries. The good nutritional practices include exclusive breastfeeding for first six months of life, appropriate complementary feeding for children aged 6-23 months and improving hygiene practices including hand washing. Increasing intake of vitamins and minerals such as providing multiple micro nutrient powder for children aged 6-23 months, iron-folic acid and multiple micro nutrient supplements for pregnant and lactating women, iron fortification of staple foods, therapeutic zinc supplements for diarrhea management, periodic Vitamin A supplements and sail iodisation.

It has also targeted to provide therapeutic feeding for malnourished children with special foods.

They also highlighted to create a link between nutrition and agriculture, poverty reduction and water and sanitation. Under this encouragement of home production of food and animal products rich in nutrients and better access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities have been given priority.

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