|© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2008/Pietrasik|
|A group of tsunami-affected children eat breakfast at a temporary school shelter in Galle, Sri Lanka.|
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 16 June 2008 – The Sri Lankan Government, backed by UNICEF, recently launched National Nutrition Month at a ceremony in the country’s capital. The initiative is intended to find ways to improve Sri Lanka’s stubborn under-nutrition statistics.
Sri Lanka’s overall health indicators are on track to achieve the international developmental benchmarks known as the Millennium Development Goals. One exception, though, is the nutritional status of hundreds of thousands of children and mothers.
Almost one in three Sri Lankan children is undernourished. Regional disparities exist, most notably in the ‘Estate sector’, or old tea-growing regions of the country. The Estate sector, in the highlands of Sri Lanka, has traditionally been home to the most remote and underdeveloped areas in the country.
UNICEF country representative Phillippe Duamelle is aware of the problem.
“For a country that suffers no significant food shortages and provides extensive free maternal and child health services, it is paradoxical that malnutrition affects such a large proportion of the population,” said Mr. Duamelle.
A series of articles in the medical journal The Lancet recently focused on global maternal and child under-nutrition. Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta, one of the series’ authors, was the keynote speaker at the National Nutrition Month ceremony.
‘The golden interval’
Prof. Bhutta urged the country’s health authorities to focus their intervention efforts on what he called 'the golden interval'. This is the time between conception and the age of two, beyond which, he said, “it is really too late.”
He added that a public health campaign targeting exclusive breastfeeding for six months would go a long way toward improving the problem.
The launch of Nutrition Month was also attended by the Secretary of Healthcare and Nutrition, Dr. H.A.P. Kahandaliyanage, and a host of UN agency representatives, officials from other government departments and journalists.
Package of interventions
“The Government of Sri Lanka has placed malnutrition at the forefront of its health priorities,” said the Minister of Healthcare and Nutrition, Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva, “and UNICEF is backing this effort to the hilt. We know that a minimum package of high-impact and cost-effective interventions can be integrated into the lifestyles of women and children to ensure that good nutrition practices are sustained.”
Such a package would include breastfeeding counselling, vitamin and nutrient supplementation, promotion of proper complementary feeding, treatment of acute malnutrition and other strategies to promote good nutrition practices in both the family and the community.
“This series from The Lancet confirms many elements of what we have known for a long time. Armed with this good knowledge, we now need good partnership amongst diverse actors – the government, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector – in order to tackle malnutrition head-on, and to make a real difference for children,” said Mr. de Silva.