ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Asian malnutritionBy David Swartzentruber
With reports of the rising prices of food hitting Asian news outlets, the European Union has just given a 20 million euro grant to UNICEF to tackle malnutrition in South and Southeast Asia.
The Maternal and Child Nutrition Security project will benefit the entire region but place special emphasis on Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Nepal and the Philippines; five countries in great need with potential for success.
More than a third of child deaths and 11 per cent of the total disease burden worldwide are due to maternal and child malnutrition, according to data presented in a groundbreaking series on nutrition in The Lancet in 2008.
In terms of global stunting, UNICEF’s 2009 nutrition report Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition: A Survival and Development Priority revealed that nearly half of the 24 countries with the largest number of chronically undernourished children are in Southeast and South Asia, despite relatively good economic growth in recent years.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily follow that as an economy gets better, nutrition gets better – it’s not a direct link,” said France Begin, UNICEF Nutrition Advisor in Asia and the Pacific. “In spite of economic growth in several countries throughout the region, we still see rates of malnutrition that are far too high.”
For years, undernutrition -- manifested by a child with low height for age (stunting), low weight for age (underweight), low weight for height (wasting), and/or deficient in vitamins or minerals (micronutrient deficiencies) -- has been a persistent problem, but one receiving little attention as well as lack of funding.
This increased attention to the link between undernutrition and sustainable development led the European Union to target maternal and child nutrition security, especially from conception to the first 2 years of life. The major grant is an important contribution to a multi-donor action, which should leverage gains for pooled resources.
During the four-year project, UNICEF will work with governments and partners to directly benefit 30 million children and 5 million pregnant and lactating women. It will also work to increase knowledge and understanding of what good nutrition means among policy makers, medical professionals and families.
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