Child mal­nu­tri­tion re­mains at con­cern­ing lev­els

The Myanmar Times - - News - MYINT KAY THI my­in­tkaythi@mm­times.com

THE Pub­lic Health De­part­ment has re­newed its push to pro­mote healthy eat­ing in the first 1000 days of life after a re­cent re­port re­vealed the wor­ry­ing ex­tent of mal­nu­tri­tion and stunted growth of chil­dren aged un­der five in Myan­mar.

“In de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, mal­nu­tri­tion is re­lated to the mor­tal­ity rate of chil­dren un­der five years old. A mal­nour­ished child is nine times more likely to die than a well-nour­ished child,” Dr Khin Saw Hla, deputy re­gional direc­tor of the De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health, said at an October 27 event in Yan­gon.

She added that healthy eat­ing in a child’s first 1000 days of life is es­sen­tial in or­der to com­bat stunt­ing and other ef­fects of mal­nu­tri­tion, such as ane­mia. Pro­grams launched by the Min­istry of Health will aim to im­prove nutri­tion in this pe­riod, she added.

Cur­rently, more than one in three chil­dren be­low the age of five across the coun­try suf­fer from stunted growth, a con­di­tion which re­flects the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of chronic mal­nu­tri­tion, ac­cord­ing to the re­cently re­leased “Myan­mar De­mo­graphic and Health Sur­vey”. Around 8 per­cent are se­verely stunted.

Stunt­ing is de­fined as when a child is over two stan­dard de­vi­a­tions be­low the ref­er­ence me­dian size of chil­dren of the same age, with se­vere stunt­ing clas­si­fied as three or more de­vi­a­tions.

In some parts of the coun­try, such as Chin or Rakhine states, more than 50pc of the chil­dren suf­fer from stunt­ing.

The Min­istry of Health’s sur­vey shows that the pro­por­tion of chil­dren who are un­der­weight or stunted in­versely cor­re­lates with wealth and lo­ca­tion. Chil­dren from poor, ru­ral back­grounds are at a far greater risk (38pc) than their wealth­ier, ur­ban coun­ter­parts (27pc).

As such, stunt­ing is high­est in states or re­gions with high ru­ral pop­u­la­tions such as Aye­yarwady Re­gion and Shan, Kayah, Rakhine and Chin states. Chin State, which by some mea­sures is the poor­est state in the coun­try, has the high­est share of stunted chil­dren, at 58pc.

Ma­ter­nal nutri­tion and health are also sig­nif­i­cant de­ter­mi­nants of a child’s nutri­tion and growth, said Dr Saw Eden of Save the Chil­dren.

In Myan­mar, nearly 15pc of all chil­dren are stunted by the age of six months, in­di­cat­ing poor growth and devel­op­ment in utero.

“Moth­ers avoid eat­ing some foods after child­birth due to tra­di­tional cus­toms. Th­ese are bad habits. Ed­u­cat­ing moth­ers on nutri­tion is very im­por­tant in re­duc­ing child mal­nu­tri­tion and stunt­ing,” Dr Saw Eden said.

Katy We­b­ley, direc­tor of pro­gram devel­op­ment, qual­ity and ad­vo­cacy at Save the Chil­dren, de­scribed th­ese fig­ures as wor­ry­ing, and an­nounced on October 27 that her or­gan­i­sa­tion will fo­cus on com­bat­ing mal­nu­tri­tion and stunt­ing over the next three years.

In or­der to re­duce th­ese sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of mal­nu­tri­tion and stunted growth, Ms We­b­ley said that ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness pro­grams de­liv­ered to par­ents and pub­li­cally avail­able health pro­grams were vi­tal.

Save the Chil­dren plans to ini­ti­ate nutri­tion pro­grams in co­op­er­a­tion with the Min­istry of Health, the Na­tional Nutri­tion Cen­tre, and other CSOs and part­ners to this end.

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