The European Union and UNICEF hand over nutrition supplies to combat malnutrition in the COVID-19 era

27 November 2020
UNICEF Laos/2020/SSiriphongphanh

Vientiane, 27 November – The European Union and UNICEF today handed over to the Ministry of Health (MOH) nutrition supplies with a total value of USD 793,855 to strengthen the Government of Lao PDR’s response to the high levels of malnutrition in the country which may likely increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The supplies provided with the financial support of the European Union in Lao PDR will support the treatment and prevention of malnutrition. These include commodities to identify and treat children with severe acute malnutrition such as special therapeutic foods (Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food – RUTF and therapeutic milk), medicines, medical supplies and equipment for the inpatient care of children with severe acute malnutrition, equipment to identify and verify cases of severe acute malnutrition as well as inadequate weight or height gains as part of preventative nutrition services including portable height boards, solar and electronic weighing scales, and Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tapes. Supplies also include Vitamin A supplement for children which will help boost their immune function and decrease their risk of illness.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic poses serious risks to the nutritional status and survival of young children in Lao PDR, with subsequent long-term impact on the growth, development and wellbeing of individuals, communities and the nation at large,” said the Minister of Health, H.E. Dr. Bounkong Syhavong. “The Ministry of Health is grateful to the European Union and UNICEF for standing by us to combat malnutrition that is on the rise due to COVID-19,” he further added.

The economic, food, and health systems disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to exacerbate all forms of malnutrition in Lao PDR. More specifically, global estimates indicate that rates of acute malnutrition (wasting) might increase by about 15 per cent. Treatment of severe acute malnutrition (severe wasting) in Laos remain limited although it is estimated that about 60,000 children suffer from this life-threatening condition annually.

One of the main limiting factors have been the lack of internal or external funding for such supplies. Given that these children are at nearly 12 times higher risk of dying than their non wasted peers, prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition is paramount to protect children from unnecessary risks and to achieve targets on under-five mortality in Lao PDR.

“Improving nutrition in Lao PDR is one of the main priorities of the European Union. The impact of COVID-19 might undermine the good progress made in reducing levels of malnutrition and under five mortality in the country over the past decade unless enhanced efforts are made, including for the treatment of acute malnutrition.” said H.E Ms. Ina Marčiulionytė, the Ambassador for the Delegation of the European Union to the Lao PDR. “It is our honour to support the efforts made to address malnutrition among children and long-term impact it will make,” she further stated.

“The prevention and treatment of malnutrition is paramount for the health, wellbeing and development of children in Lao PDR, particularly in challenging times like these when families, communities and health systems are faced with additional challenges,” explained Dr. Pia Rebello Britto, UNICEF Representative to Lao PDR. “We thank the European Union for their support to address key challenges in scaling up such services in Lao PDR and for their wider support for nutrition to UNICEF, the Government of Laos PDR and other partners.”

The nutrition supplies and commodities will be handed over to key departments within MoH, including the Department of Healthcare and Rehabilitation and the Department of Hygiene and Health Promotion (DHHP) particularly Nutrition Centre which is under the umbrella of DHHP and will be distributed throughout the country to support the efforts for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition. 

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