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Nepal sets goals to combat child malnutrition

© UNICEF Nepal/2010/Shrestha
Nepalese children dramatize some of the adverse effects of under nutrition at a high-level meeting in Kathmandu.

By Rupa Joshi

KATHMANDU, Nepal, 16 March 2010 – High level policymakers and international aid agencies met in Kathmandu this month to establish goals ensuring that Nepalese children get enough to eat.

According to the Nepal Nutrition Report Card – which the Ministry of Health and Population launched during the meeting – approximately 1.7 million children, nearly half of all five years old children in the country, are stunted or suffer from undernutrition.

The meeting was organised by the Ministry with support from UNICEF. Participants discussed the central role of nutrition in development, as well as the urgent need to scale up efforts to address child and maternal undernutrition – key elements of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

The effects of undernutrition

Officials from Nepal’s Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Health and the National Planning Commission joined representatives of aid agencies, including the World Bank, USAID, AusAid and UNICEF in shedding light on the various aspects of child and maternal nutrition.

Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population Umakanta Chowdhury launches the Nepal Nutrition Report Card. A major finding of the report is that approximately 1.7 million children – nearly half of all Nepalese children under five – are stunted or suffer from chronic malnutrition.

During the meeting, children entertained the delegates with stories and plays that dramatically demonstrated the effects of lack of food. The characters depicted suffered from ailments such as stunting, learning disabilities and diabetes.

At the end of the show, the children urged the audience to do all that they could to protect children's rights.

Nepal’s nutritional statistics are based on findings from UNICEF's report ‘Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition,’ which was launched in November 2009. UNICEF Senior Advisor on Infant and Young Child Nutrition Dr. Nune Mangasaryan thanked the Government of Nepal for being the first country to take the initiative to launch the report nationally.

Greatest vulnerability

"The period of greatest vulnerability to nutritional deficiencies is very early in life,” said UNICEF Representative in Nepal Gillian Mellsop, a meeting participant. “If a child is not well nourished during this vital window of opportunity, that window slams shut on that child and the intellectual damage can be irreversible.”

She noted that there is a significant need for nutrition interventions – supplementation and complementary feeding – to focus on children under two and adolescent girls.

UNICEF is committed to the progressive realization of Nepal’s nutrition goals, Ms Mellsop told Government officials. She said that the agency will assist in scaling up infant and young child feeding through micronutrient powder supplementation and zinc treatment.

Financial and political commitment

"The Government of Nepal realizes that tackling undernutrition needs a multi-sectoral approach," said Nepal’s Minister for Health and Population Mr. Khadka Bahadur Basyal. He added that increased attention to education, livelihoods and sanitation would be needed. 

“And, importantly, we also need to ensure financial and political commitment," he said.

Nepal became a democratic republic in 2008. Noting that the country’s constitution is still being built, Minister Basyal also discussed the importance of paying attention to nutrition and enshrining children’s rights in that core document.

"We assure you that we will try to make the new Constitution as child-friendly as possible," he said. Championing the right of every child to grow and live to his or her full potential, he added, “means ensuring the health of the nation."




4 March 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a new commitment to tackling child malnutrition in Nepal.
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