Good nutrition remains the base for the development of a healthy and smart child, strengthening the immune system and playing an important role in his intellectual development. On the other hand, poor or imbalanced nutrition can lead to irreversible damage to the physical and mental health of a child as well as of a nation, leading to significant losses in work productivity and additional expenses for health care. A deficiency in vitamins and minerals is far more of a problem than was thought just one decade ago. For many years, it has been known that a lack of vitamins, essential minerals, and micronutrients cause anaemia, mental retardation, blindness, and goitres, conditions which affect millions of people around the world. However, even a moderate deficiency which has no clinical symptoms can have devastating consequences, threatening the energy, intellect, and productivity of nations.
UNICEF takes a complex approach to the improvement of mothers' and children’s nutrition, with a strong emphasis on the periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, Moldova still has opportunities to go before the right to complete and healthy nutrition becomes a reality for everyone. At present, 8.4 percent of Moldovan children under the age of five have stunted growth (shorter height than normal), and 4 percent are underweight (smaller weight than normal).
The simplest way to assure children of growing and developing well is to breastfeed them exclusively during the first six months of their lives. This practice is at once the first step towards reducing the infant mortality rate and a cheap strategy for survival. Mothers' milk is non-contaminated and contains, along with the mother's antibodies, all the nutrients which a newborn needs. Children who are breastfed during the first days of their lives have a healthier immune system, as well as grow and develop better. UNICEF strongly promotes breastfeeding, offering young mothers all the information they need to adopt this practice. Currently, about 70 percent of children in Moldova are born in maternity wards where mothers are encouraged to nurse their babies during the first hour of their life. In the last few years, more women generally choose to breastfeed their infants. Thus, 85 percent of children between the ages of 0-6 months are breastfed, half of them exclusively. However, the duration of breastfeeding in Moldova is not long and lasts between 12-15 months.
Lack of iodine and iron
Another nutritional problem in Moldova is the deficit of micronutrients, especially iodine and iron. These deficiencies cause irreversible diseases in children and enormously affect the economy of the country. The lack of iodine is most often associated with visible or palpable forms of goitre. However, the invisible effects of an iodine deficiency are much more dramatic: the reduction of intellectual development, risks during pregnancy including spontaneous miscarriage, congenital anomalies. In more serious cases, with a lack of sufficient iodine during pregnancy and in the first few years of life, development delays can turn into mental retardation. Every year in Moldova, 5000 children are born with delayed mental development because of a deficiency of iodine in the mother's diet during pregnancy. Long term, a deficiency of iodine in food results in a lowering of work capacity in adults. Annually, Moldova loses 21.4 million dollars, or 0.7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), due to lowered work productivity in the adult population as a result of iodine and iron deficiencies. For these reasons, the effects of lack of iodine in food constitute a major concern for UNICEF. Along with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF launched in 2007 the National Programme to eradicate troubles caused by the deficit of iodine by the year 2010. The document assumes, among other things, the exclusive importation of iodized salt into the country, the percentage of families using iodized salt rising to 90 percent, and the spread of the use of iodized salt in all branches of the food industry beginning in 2009. Within the framework of the programme, a massive information campaign was carried out promoting the daily consumption of iodized salt, especially by families with children in rural environments.