Health and Nutrition

For every child, good health and nutrition.

 Breast feeding situation in Cambodia
UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacommo


No child or mother should suffer or die from preventable causes, yet this is exactly what happens in Cambodia every year. These deaths could be because a woman did not have the right care during her pregnancy, or because a baby did not receive post-natal care or proper nutrition in the early months of life. They could be because families find it difficult to reach health centres, particularly in rural and remote areas, or because it is hard to find skilled staff, or the quality of services is poor. Harmful cultural practices still exist, and many mothers use traditional healers instead of doctors.

Notwithstanding these challenges, there have been improvements in Cambodia. Overall, the country has achieved remarkable success in health, and has seen a significant decline in child mortality rates. Between 2000 and 2014, the infant and under-five mortality rates both decreased by over 70 per cent, while maternal mortality decreased dramatically, from 472 to 170 deaths per 100,000 live births. Better antenatal and post-natal care, immunization coverage and skilled birth attendance are some of the factors behind these improvements.

Between 2000 and 2014, the under-five mortality rate decreased from 124 to 35 out of 1,000 live births.

Malnutrition in Cambodia
UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacomo Pirozzi

While this is significant progress, far too many families are still unnecessarily losing their children, especially at birth and during the first month of life.

Malnutrition rates among children under 5 years are some of the highest in the region, with 32 per cent of children being too short for their age and 10 per cent of children not weighing enough for their height. Improper feeding, poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), povery and mother's lack of education are among the main reasons for children being under-nourished. Worldwide, stunting is one of the biggest obstacles to human development.

Neonatal care in Cambodia
UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacomo Pirozzi


UNICEF works with the Ministry of Health, the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development and other partners at the national and local level to improve services and the quality of care for children and women. We focus on equitable access to sustainable, inclusive, adequate and affordable health and nutrition services, from birth to adolescence. These can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to survive, grow, learn and rise out of poverty, while boosting the overall human capital and economic development of the country.

Pregnant women, mothers, newborns, children under 5 years and adolescents are at the heart of what we do. We work particularly among marginalized groups and focus heavily on the north-eastern provinces of Cambodia.

Our health and nutrition activities are integrated with other programmes, such as education, child protection and WASH, so that we address interlinked parts of the whole–for example, safe environments are linked with clean water, clean water is linked with health, health is linked with education, and education is linked with preventing teenage pregnancy.

Increased access to vital health services has contributed to the drastic reduction in under-five mortality in Cambodia.

A healthy newborn in Cambdia
UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacomo Pirozzi

Build an environment that makes good health possible

UNICEF works with the government to address policy and budget gaps, so that mothers and children in Cambodia can access quality healthcare. Having reliable data is the key to getting the right results. Helping local and national government bodies gather and use information effectively is one of the most powerful ways of ensuring that when policies and strategies are formed, they are based on the right data, and that Cambodian children and women will benefit from the resulting health services.

Fill health gaps

The private sector in Cambodia is an influential ally and we continue to use its power to improve health and nutrition services. We help negotiate agreements between the Ministry of Health and the private sector to make sure that local suppliers do not face barriers when getting locally produced health supplies on to the market, and that the products they supply are affordable for all. These essential health and nutrition supplies treat children who are severely malnourished.

For thousands of women and children, emergency obstetric and newborn care can mean the difference between life and death. Together with our partners, we provide technical training so that health workers have the skills they need to offer quality, life-saving care. We train village health support groups and authorities at the local level on how to coordinate and plan their health services, and how to deliver them effectively.       

Create a demand for health

Citizens can be powerful agents for change, so we use outreach activities to reach people living in remote and poorly served areas. Many people still use traditional healers or birth attendants, which can have negative consequences. Our health and nutrition sessions promote good practices, and focus on the importance of seeking services from qualified health practitioners. By mobilizing communities and stimulating their engagement, we can encourage people to change how they seek help, and to demand quality services.

The potential for changing perceptions, and therefore behaviours, is enormous. Together with our partners, we teach pregnant and lactating women, adolescent girls, mothers, caregivers, families and communities. We do research on social and gender norms that are detrimental to health so we can understand where challenges lie, and we promote important messages on safe health and nutrition.

Changing perceptions is the first step towards changing behaviours. This can mean the difference between a woman delivering her baby with a midwife in a hospital or with a traditional birth attendant at home, or between her visiting a clinic for routine, life-saving health check ups for her baby or not having her baby checked after birth. And it can save lives.

Nurture children’s growth with proper nutrition

Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, health and development. We work closely with authorities from national to local level, as well as healthcare providers and communities to improve nutrition, so that children in Cambodia are well fed and healthy.

Our work includes promoting locally sourced nutrition products; setting up systems to track consumption of iodized salt; collecting age- and sex-disaggregated data on acute malnutrition to target girls and boys who most need treatment; developing e-mapping tools to monitor and improve performance in health centres; and training health staff to offer nutrition counselling and complementary feeding.

A wholesome nutrition system requires sound legislation. This is why we also support the government to develop policies related to food and health, such as minors purchasing alcohol and cigarettes, preventing people from becoming overweight, and food safety.