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Largest-ever survey on situation of children and women in Thailand shows progress and challenges

Survey of 43,000 households provides in-depth data on nutrition, health, education and other critical development issues

BANGKOK, 9 March 2007 – Thailand has made significant progress in improving the situation of children and women in recent years, however remaining challenges and sub-national disparities need to be addressed, according to the results of a nation-wide survey.

The survey carried out by the National Statistical Office (NSO) with support from UNICEF confirmed that Thailand’s rapid economic development and social development policies have resulted in significant social benefits for its people, including improvements in children’s nutritional status, school attendance, access to safe water and sanitation, and coverage of essential health services.

“These are very impressive achievements that Thailand can be proud of,” said Tomoo Hozumi, the UNICEF Thailand Representative, at the survey’s launch. “At the same time, the results show that there are some remaining challenges in reaching the international goals, and that the country can definitely make further progress towards them given its capacity, resources and wonderful track record so far.”

The survey, formally titled the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), covered some 43,000 households across the country and is the largest and most in-depth assessment of the situation of children and women ever undertaken in Thailand.

According to the survey at the national level the percentage of underweight children in Thailand fell from 19 per cent in 1990 to 9 per cent in 2006; 98 per cent of children of primary school age were attending school; the number of one–year old children fully immunized against the six preventable childhood diseases was 83 per cent; and the percentage of the population with access to safe water and sanitation was 94 per cent and 99 per cent, respectively.

Hozumi said one challenge clearly highlighted by the survey was the country’s low rate of exclusive breastfeeding. In Thailand, the percentage of infants being exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life was only 5.4 per cent, one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in the world.  The UNICEF Representative noted that exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to guarantee that infants get all the nutrients they need during this critical early period of their development, and he urged steps to ensure that the marketing of breast milk substitutes to mothers in Thailand follow internationally agreed standards and guidelines.

Hozumi also pointed out that Thailand trails many other countries in regard to iodized salt consumption, the best and most economical way to ensure an adequate amount of this essential nutrient in the daily diet. Severe deficiencies of iodine can result in mental retardation, while even mild deficiencies can restrict children’s mental capacity and negatively affect their performance in school. At the national level, only 58 per cent of households consume iodized salt, with coverage falling to as low as 35 per cent for households in the Northeast region of the country.

“This is an area where more effort is needed,” Hozumi said. “It requires the introduction of legislation that would make it legally compulsory to add iodine to all edible salt for human and animal consumption in Thailand. Many countries around the world have already done this in order to increase the production and consumption of iodized salt.”

The survey also showed that much more needs to be done to educate the public about HIV/AIDS. Less than half of 15- to 49-year-old women had comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS, which was measured by knowing at least two ways to prevent HIV transmission and rejecting three common misconceptions about HIV transmission. Negative attitudes about people with HIV/AIDS still persist, with 29 per cent of the survey’s respondents replying that an HIV-positive teacher should not be allowed to teach, and 65 per cent saying they would not buy food from a vendor with HIV/AIDS.

The survey highlighted substantial disparities in the status of children and women and their access to essential knowledge, services and commodities depending on where they live (urban or rural, different provinces), their ethnicity (ethnic minorities or majority, Thai-speaking or non-Thai speaking) and their socio-economic status (poor or rich, more educated or less educated). 

For example, children from the poorest households were almost four time as likely to be underweight (as measured by weight for age) as children from the richest (15 per cent versus 4 per cent), while children with uneducated mothers were more than twice as likely to be underweight as compared to the children of mothers with some secondary education (13 per cent versus 6 per cent). Children from the poorest households were also more than twice as likely to be stunted – meaning shorter than average for their age – than children from the richest households (16 per cent versus 7 per cent).

In regard to iodized salt consumption, very rich households were nearly twice as likely to consume iodized salt than very poor households (75 per cent versus 42 per cent).

UNICEF is on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:

Khun Porntip Sriwatcharin, Statistician, 02 281 0333 ext. 1215

Mark Thomas, UNICEF Communication Officer, 02 356 9481, 081 172 9902

Nattha Keenapan, UNICEF Senior Communication Assistant, 02 356 9478, 086 616 7555




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