Nepal progresses significantly in nutrition of mothers and children at risk: UNICEF

There are many reasons behind this improvement but one of the major reasons is the involvement of more than 50,000 female community health volunteers.

As stated by UNICEF, Nepal has achieved extraordinary success around maternal and child nutrition. (Photo: UNICEF)

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Kathmandu: According to United Nations Children Fund’s special supplement of the Maternal and Child Nutrition Journal published on Thursday, Nepal achieved globally renowned progress in reducing child stunting and scaling up nutrition services during the Millennium Development Goals era (2002 -2016), despite periods of political and economic instability.

However, the country still faces considerable nutrition-related challenges. Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets on stunting and wasting is not advancing at the speed, scale or equity required and may be further derailed by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

UNICEF’s “Nutrition in Nepal: Three decades of progress for children and women” brings together a set of nine original articles that examine the drivers of success and identify where greater policy and programmatic action is needed to achieve the SDG nutrition targets.

As stated by UNICEF, Nepal has achieved extraordinary success around maternal and child nutrition.

“Stunting in children (under the age of two) decreased by 24-percentage points between 1996 (57 percent) and 2016 (33 percent),” states the journal. “This was due to the increased coverage of health and nutrition services and improvements in household wealth, parental education, and sanitation.”

Similarly, the report has also found that Between 1996 and 2016, the early initiation of breastfeeding saw an increase from 18 percent to 56 percent, and complementary feeding increased from 54 percent to 77 percent.

“More women took sufficient iron and folic acid supplements during their pregnancy, with an increase in the percentage from only 6 percent in 2001 to 71 percent in 2016.”

There are many reasons behind this involvement but one of the major reasons is the involvement of more than 50,000 female community health volunteers. Nepal saw an increase in access to and demand for iron-folic acid supplementation by communities.

“Optimal maternal and child nutrition is the basis for developing a resilient society. The decline in the number of malnourished children, improvements in health facilities and services, and the multisectoral approach used in Nepal over the past three decades—noted in the supplement of the Maternal and Child Nutrition Journal—are a testament to the Government of Nepal’s commitment to reducing all forms of malnutrition,” said EU Ambassador to Nepal, H.E. Nona Deprez.

 “The European Union is proud to support and complement the Government’s ongoing efforts to improve the nutrition status of women and children of Nepal.” 

According to the journal supplement, this progress in nutrition has been possible in Nepal through the progressive actions taken by successive governments. The Government of Nepal utilized ground-breaking research to test interventions and overcome challenges related to, for example, vitamin A supplementation. The Government is also committed to enforcing mandatory legislation such as salt iodization that protects children’s nutrition. 

The investment in health posts and temporary health centers to reach children and women—in particular, Nepal’s workforce of Female Community Health Volunteers—have been crucial in achieving a significant proportion of children with vitamin A supplements and pregnant women with iron and folic acid supplements.

“Today, Nepal has a very different policy and programmatic landscape from that at the start of the MDG era, and there are new opportunities and challenges in the quest to achieve the national and global targets on nutrition,” states the journal. 

UNICEF calls upon the government and partners to improve the health of children in Nepal. 

Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has become a human and socio-economic crisis that threatens to unravel past progress on nutrition.

“The learning from the past 25 years that are incorporated in the supplement of the Maternal and Child Nutrition Journal are invaluable. These will inform and contribute to future improvements within the nutrition program in Nepal,” said Ms. Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative to Nepal. 

“The data provided in the supplement will help us to improve maternal, adolescent, and child nutrition by scaling up essential nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions and ensure an enabling environment for nutrition. However, we must act now, given the impact that the pandemic has had on the nutritional health of mothers and their children”

UNICEF calls upon the government and partners to improve the health of children in Nepal. 

They appeal for giving greater attention to improving access to nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets throughout childhood, adolescence and in the years of childbearing. As economic, social, and physical constraints to nutritious diets coexist, a multisystem approach involving food, health, water and sanitation, education and social protection systems are needed.

Likewise, they also suggest the government of Nepal to use multiple communication channels to reach caregivers with factual information, advice and counseling on infant and young child feeding and dietary practices for older children, adolescents and women.

According to them, another thing that the Nepal government should do for the health improvement of children is to strengthen local government leadership and management capacities to plan, budget, implement and monitor nutrition programs and services, and maintain Nepal’s commitment to generating data, information, and evidence to assess progress and inform decisions.

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