In Nepal, Improving Maternal and Child Health
Deepa Rai, UNICEF
KATHMANDU, Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal (October 3, 2012) — Nepal took a historic step last week as diverse sectors came together in pursuit of a common goal—to reduce undernutrition.
Together with seven government ministries, development partners including UNICEF and the European Union (EU), and civil society representatives, Prime Minister of Nepal Dr. Baburam Bhattarai launched the country’s new Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan 2013–2017 in Kathmandu.
Prerequisite for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals
About 49% of Nepalese children under five years old suffer from stunting, a measure of chronic undernutrition—which is one of the highest rates in the world.
“We have envisioned achieving the nutritional well-being of all people in Nepal to contribute towards the socio-economic development of the country. Our mission is to accelerate the reduction in malnutrition, and enhance our children’s brain development and growth,” said Dr. Bhattarai. “The Government of Nepal is highly committed to this plan, which is a prerequisite for achieving all the MDGs.”
The consequences of acute malnutrition are profound, irreversible and lifelong. It heightens children’s risk of death and damages the brain, ultimately affecting physical and mental development. It also has an impact on the general health and well-being of a nation. The World Bank has estimated that it can cause productivity losses of as much as 10% of lifetime earnings among the affected, and cause a reduction of up to 3% of a country’s gross domestic product.
Addressing a “Silent Emergency”
The aim of the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan is to reduce chronic malnutrition by 1/3 over the next five years, and within ten years bring it down to a level at which it no longer hampers human development in the country.
The plan focuses its interventions on the first 1,000 days of life. This critical period from conception to a child’s second birthday is when young children lose their chance to thrive cognitively and physically, if poorly nourished.
Supporting the highly anticipated plan, UNICEF Nepal Country Representative Hanaa Singer said, “Malnutrition has been a silent emergency in this country—insidious and pervasive, affecting the health, intellectual capacity and productivity of Nepalis from generation to generation. What has impressed us most is the high level of leadership and commitment to uplifting the profile of nutrition in the national development agenda and making it a matter of concern to other sectors such as education, sanitation, agriculture and finance, too, who join us today.”
UNICEF has provided the lead technical support to the National Planning Commission for the plan, with funding from the EU, as part of the regional Maternal and Young Child Nutrition Security in Asia project.