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WB & UNICEF tackling child undernutrition

Released at: 17:34, 12/09/2019

WB & UNICEF tackling child undernutrition

Photo: Viet Tuan

Two commit to continued efforts to fight what remains a persistent challenge.

by Doanh Doanh

The World Bank and UNICEF have reaffirmed their strong commitment to working with the Vietnamese Government to tackle child undernutrition as the country prepares its Socio-Economic Development Strategy 2021-30.

“The stakes are high - stunting will continue to affect one in every four Vietnamese children, permanently impairing their development and squandering their potential contribution to the economy unless proper interventions are conducted during a child’s first two years of life,” said Mr. Ousmane Dione, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “The stakes are even higher for children from ethnic minorities, who are disproportionately affected and have fewer resources.”

While Vietnam has made remarkable progress in improving overall human capital outcomes, reducing undernutrition is a persistent challenge. According to UNICEF, more than 230,000 children under five years old in the country suffer from severe acute malnutrition every year, which is a major cause of their stunting and death.

“Ensuring the best possible nutrition for children in the first years will absolutely reap benefits for the physical health of children and it will also fuel their brain development and capacity to learn, thus reducing long-term health costs and increasing education outcomes,” said Ms. Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative in Vietnam. “The provision of micronutrients to children and pregnant women is an investment that governments make in order to achieve a rate of return in their long-term economic growth. Development partners are committed to bringing global expertise and support and count on the increasing ownership and leadership of the Vietnamese Government to address the nutrition challenges.”

A large number of children from ethnic minorities are chronically undernourished. A new World Bank report found that nearly one in three ethnic minority children are affected by stunting; more than twice as much as the Kinh majority, and 21 per cent of ethnic minority children are underweight; 2.5 times higher than that of their Kinh peers.

Nutrition interventions are most effective during the first 1,000 days of life, from the first day of pregnancy until the child’s second birthday. Undernutrition during this period could lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical and cognitive development.

Stunting is linked to lower economic productivity, including a 10 per cent reduction in lifetime earnings. When multiplied across an entire nation, poor nutrition can cost up to 3 per cent of GDP annually.

As such, the World Bank and UNICEF recommend several policy actions, including securing adequate and predictable financing for nutrition-related programs, building multisectoral plans to address the underlying determinants of undernutrition, and scaling up evidence-based interventions.

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