Health and nutrition
Working to improve access to child and maternal health and nutrition
Child survival and good health are the foundations of national development and prosperity. In Myanmar, many children still struggle to achieve the right start in life. Myanmar still has one of the highest mortality rates for children under the age of five in the ASEAN region.
According to the 2014 census, the mortality rate for under-fives was 50 deaths per 1,000 live births, most of them within the first month of life. Most deaths could have been prevented through effective health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation interventions, delivered through a strengthened health care system. Many children in Myanmar struggle to access adequate nutrition.
Only 16 per cent of young children receive a minimum acceptable and adequately diverse diet. The rate of stunting among children under 5 has dropped from 35.1 per cent in 2009, but remains high at 29 per cent.
In some states, regions or townships, stunting prevalence is as high as 41 per cent. The poorest children are most affected, with 38 per cent stunted compared to only 16 per cent of children in the wealthiest households. Inadequate hygiene and sanitation also contribute to chronic and acute malnutrition. Maternal undernutrition poses serious risks for both mother and child, including low birth weight for the newborn child and susceptibility to disease.
In recent years Myanmar has increased routine immunization and made significant progress towards polio eradication, but there are still significant gaps, leading to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and diphtheria.
HIV and AIDS
Myanmar has reduced HIV prevalence in the general population to under 0.6 per cent. However, HIV rates remain relatively high among key populations, including adolescent (aged 15–19) intravenous drug users (13.8 per cent), men who have sex with men (2.9 per cent) and female sex workers (4.8 per cent) and their clients.
Investing in children’s health and nutrition is one of the smartest moves a country can make. Health investments help break the cycle of poverty, boost productivity and reduce non-communicable diseases.
UNICEF recognizes that children’s ill health and malnutrition have many causes and need to be tackled through building a robust and integrated health system, and removing critical delivery bottlenecks.
Maternal and newborn health services
Among a range of child health initiatives to strengthen service delivery, UNICEF supports health facilities with working newborn resuscitation equipment and training for frontline health workers, as well as competency-based training of health care providers at referral health facilities.
Extra support is reaching health facilities that provide interventions to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Training for frontline workers in Communication for Development will boost public knowledge of life-saving health behaviours. UNICEF also supports internally-displaced persons in Myanmar with maternal and neonatal child health services, including immunizations, referrals and nutrition support.
More children than ever are being immunized. UNICEF works closely with the Government and partners to create awareness and demand for immunization, and supports the improvement and extension of cold chain systems. In 2017, for the first time more than 14 million children aged 9 months to 15 years were reached through Japanese Encephalitis immunization campaigns.
As part of the global Scaling Up Nutrition movement, UNICEF works with multiple stakeholders, including the Government and partners, to increase investments in nutrition.
Analysis of nutrition bottlenecks reveals many knowledge gaps within families about adequate nutrition and care during a critical time in life — a child’s first 1,000 days. Other barriers include limited enforcement of laws to protect breastfeeding and access to fortified foods, limited capacity of frontline workers to deliver quality nutrition services, and lack of nutrition-sensitive programming across sectors such as agriculture and rural development.
UNICEF is addressing key gaps by building the capacity of thousands of basic health staff and community volunteers to provide caregivers with support on Infant and Young Child Feeding and managing acute malnutrition, and it is supporting the Government in effective social communication strategies.
UNICEF is also collaborating with several ministries and partners to scale up proven, multi-sectoral approaches to nutrition, including in early childhood development initiatives as well as cash transfers to pregnant and lactating mothers in the most vulnerable areas.