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UNICEF chief puts spotlight on stunting; terms it global crisis

GENEVA/Khartoum, 04 February 2012 -  A global crisis that the world is largely ignorant of: that’s how UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake describes the plight of 180 million children under the age of five around the world whose bodies and minds are limited by stunting.

Voicing his opinion in an editorial posted on Time.com (http://wp.me/p1RTSY-1Y9), Mr. Lake stated that the impact of chronic malnutrition on children “has received far too little attention for too long”.

In the article, he urges world leaders to pay greater attention to the issue, which is a result of deficiency of micro-nutrients like vitamin A, iodine, zinc, iron and others. Mr. Lake points out that a stunted five-year-old is four to six inches shorter and is nearly five times more likely to die from diarrhoea as compared to his non-stunted peer. Stunting is also associated with impaired brain development.
 
In Sudan, 35 per cent of children below the age of five or nearly two million are suffering from stunting. But the average hides the fact that in one state as many as 54 per cent of children are stunted. That’s as high as the rate in the six worst-affected countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Timor-Leste and Yemen.

Nutrition experts say that the answer to stunting is to boost children’s intake of critical micro-nutrients. Sudan has no data on the status of micro-nutrient deficiencies among women and children. A nation-wide ban on the sale of non-iodized salt is an immediate step that the country needs to undertake. There is also a need for expanding the micro-nutrient supplementation programme that includes providing iron and folic acid to pregnant and new mothers and Vitamin A to children below five.

Another no-cost and effective remedy is to ensure exclusive breast feeding till the child turns six-months-old and continued breast feeding with supplementary foods till the child is two. In Sudan, the levels of exclusive breast feeding of children below six months age are gradually increasing from 36 per cent in 2006 to 41 per cent in 2010 but there is a long way to go.

UNICEF in Sudan is constricted by a lack of adequate funds. Last year, the agency’s nutrition programme received only USD11.7 million against its ask of over USD14 million. An estimated USD38 million are needed to scale the programme up to a national level.

Leading economic experts rank providing young children with micronutrients as the most cost-effective way to advance global welfare. Mr. Lake asks how any community, nation or continent could ever hope to develop to its full capacity if its children do not have a fair chance to reach their potential.

Progress has been made. A combination of strong economic growth, good leadership and the scaling-up of the nutrition movement has helped bring down the prevalence of childhood stunting in the developing world from 40 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2008, Mr. Lake notes.

While welcoming the recent initiatives undertaken by a number of countries to reduce stunting, he called for more to join in. “Suppose the 180 million young children who are stunted all lived in one region. Wouldn’t we see this as one of the greatest emergencies in the world?” Mr. Lake asks.

For further information, please contact:

Simon Ingram, UNICEF Chief of Communication, Sudan, + 249 156 553 670 x 306, +249 912 177 573, singram@unicef.org

 

 
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