Addressing anaemia in adolescent girls
Across Nepal, efforts to increase the intake of iron-folic acid are helping to promote better health among adolescent girls by reducing their susceptibility to anaemia
Saptari, Nepal - Fifteen-year-old Anjali Kumari Shah stands in front of a group of her schoolmates at the Sarvodaya School in Saptari District in southern Nepal, talking about the importance of good nutrition during adolescence. She is focused particularly on promoting the consumption of iron-folic acid among young girls like herself.
“Doing this regularly will help prevent anaemia,” Anjali tells her peers.
Anjali has herself been taking iron-folic acid supplements on a regular basis for two months now. Based on her positive experience, she is now keen to share these benefits with others in her school and community.
“We were provided iron-folic acid by the school, and since starting to take it, I have noticed a change in my overall energy level as well as having more regular periods,” Anjali says.
It was in 2016 that the Government of Nepal had launched the weekly iron folic acid supplementation (WIFAS) programme to address the high prevalence of anaemia among adolescents in the country. Under the programme, most schools across Nepal administer iron folic acid tablets to female students between 10 to 19 years of age – one tablet each for a period of 26 weeks in a given year.
Health teacher at Anjali’s school, Amrit Chaudhary talks about how, besides the WIFAS programme, the school has also been emphasizing the importance of diverse diets in supporting the growth and development of adolescent girls. “In my class, for instance, we often discuss the adverse effects of junk food, and I try to motivate my students to opt for more locally-available food varieties in their diet,” he says.
Adding to this, school nurse Dolly Kumari Bhagat says that the students have been very receptive to the information they receive as part of the school health and nutrition programme. “More children bring home-made lunches now rather than packaged foods,” she observes. “It’s good to see that they are increasingly aware of the consequences of a poor diet.”
As for the iron-folic acid supplements, Dolly says that the girls themselves ask about when the next one is being given. “When they miss taking it, they’ll be here the very next day asking for it,” she says.
These efforts are expected to contribute to improved attendance, and thereby improved learning outcomes, among female students in the immediate present. Apart from this, it is also hoped that the benefits will continue into their adulthood, including during pregnancy, when anaemia is associated with premature births, low birth weight babies, peri-natal and maternal mortality.
To support the programme, UNICEF has been working with the Government of Nepal to implement the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Plan, which has a focus on improving the nutritional status of adolescent girls. With the support of donors, including the Royal Norwegian Government, Nepal has now successfully expanded the iron-folic acid supplementation programme targeted at adolescent girls to all 77 districts.