Highest prevalence of malnutrition in South Asia
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
Children in need of nourishment
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.
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
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
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.