At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

UNICEF and partners help Lao PDR Government address ‘alarming’ malnutrition levels

VIENTIANE, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 14 September 2010 – UNICEF and partners have joined forces with the Ministry of Health in Lao PDR to address worrying levels of malnutrition among children living in remote areas of the country.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Rachel O'Brien reports on the nutritional assessment survey carried out in flood- and typhoon-affected areas of Lao PDR.

 

An assessment conducted in May and June by the National Institute of Public Health, in collaboration with the Department of Statistics and UNICEF, reported a poor-to-critical state of acute malnutrition among children living in nine provinces affected by floods in 2008 and by Typhoon Ketsana last year.

“We found extremely high levels of malnutrition among children” said Dr. Dalaphone Sithideth, the survey team’s physician. In Attapeu, one of three southern provinces covered by the survey, 18.9 per cent of children aged 6 to 59 months were found to suffer from acute malnutrition. This figure is almost 4 per cent above the international definition for an emergency situation.

‘Too poor to buy food’

The floods and typhoon destroyed rice crops and other agricultural production in some of the poorest areas of Lao PDR, leaving communities struggling to feed themselves.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Lao PDR/2010/Souvannavong
A member of the assessment team meets with mothers during a survey that found worrying levels of young child malnutrition in remote areas of Lao PDR.

“My rice field was flooded and my crops died,” Ms. Phom, an elderly woman in Saravane province, told the assessment team. “The floods lasted for a long time, and I am too poor to buy food”.

The survey uncovered a number of other worrying facts, including significantly high levels of stunting among young children in the southern province of Sekong. More than a third of young children in the nine affected provinces suffered from anaemia. Communities reported inadequate access to safe drinking water and outbreaks of waterborne disease, as well.

Poor infant feeding

The report also highlighted the prevalence of poor infant feeding practices – critical in determining a child’s health and future development.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Lao PDR/2010/Souvannavong
A child in Lao PDR is measured for growth during an assessment of child nutrition in areas affected by floods and a typhoon in 2008 and 2009.

The survey team found that many mothers in the affected provinces fail to exclusively breastfeed their children in the early months of life. A large number of infants, some as young as two months of age, are instead given sticky rice, water and soup.

Nutrition experts say the early introduction to solid food means babies are at risk of infection, particularly of diarrhoeal disease and acute respiratory disorders.

Strategy of intervention

In response to the assessment, the government and its international partners have devised a 12-month strategy of urgent interventions targeting around 200,000 children. This strategy includes the dispatch of therapeutic feeding kits to severely affected areas and training of health staff and volunteer community workers, who will carry out a screening and assessment of the most severely malnourished children.

For its part, UNICEF will accelerate the distribution of micronutrient powder for children aged 6 to 23 months and promote zinc supplements for children with diarrhoea. Simultaneously, a campaign to promote exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life is using education and community participation to tackle some of the inappropriate feeding practices found in the most affected areas.

“This is a really worrying situation, but it’s good to see a response taking shape”, said UNICEF Representative in Lao PDR Timothy Schaffter. “Through working closely with our different partners in the government and other organizations, we aim to bring about a rapid improvement in the nutritional status of these children."


 

 

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