UNICEF works to improve infant and young child nutrition, helping ensure every child has the best possible start in life

© UNICEF/Giacomo Pirozzi

The challenge

Although improvements in health service delivery and economic growth in Albania have contributed to better food security and overall nutrition, children still face malnutrition.

According to the Albania Demographic Health Survey (DHS) of 2010, 19 per cent of children under five have stunted growth and 22 per cent are overweight and obese. Further surveys from 2012 and 2013 indicate insufficient iodine among school age children and pregnant women.

Undernutrition is more than mere food insecurity. It exists in food-secure communities. Inadequate knowledge of infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices, poor child care and inadequate access to health and other social services are some of its causes.

As per UNICEF and World Health Organization guidelines, optimal young child feeding practices include initial breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two and beyond, together with safe, age appropriate feeding of solid, semi-solid and soft food starting at the age of six months.

 According to DHS, 43 per cent of children in Albania start breastfeeding within the first hour after birth and only 39 per cent are exclusively breastfed.

Given the magnitude of the problem and the potential impact, allocated resources to young child feeding  in Albania are still small.

The importance of an intersectoral approach to child malnutrition is not fully understood and is yet to translate into an ideal mix of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions.   

Albania has a strong legislative framework for the marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes(BMS) to protect mothers and children from the unethical marketing practices of infant formula companies; and for Universal Salt Iodization, however law enforcement mechanisms need strengthening.

The solution

UNICEF works closely with the Ministry of Health and Social Protection (MOHSP) and the Institute of Public Health (IPH) to monitor nutrition status of children under five, through administrative data and household surveys.

With UNICEF support, the MOHSP and IPH have already introduced six new child nutrition indicators (feeding practices and growth monitoring) for nationwide monitoring of and reporting on all primary and secondary health care facilities.

UNICEF supports the MOHSP Inspectorate to in revising the existing law on marketing of BMS, and has conducted a comparative analysis between national measures and the International Code for Marketing of BMS. As a result, the revised law approved by the parliament strengthens labeling requirements and administrative measures for violations. The State Health Inspectorate will also periodically monitor enforcement of the law.

UNICEF is also working with the MOHSP Inspectorate to strengthen the existing USI law for sustained efforts in the elimination of Iodine Deficiency Disorder in Albania.