A couple of decades ago Nepal was a world leader in fighting nutrition, especially stunting (low height for age). Can it regain that position in time to reach targets in 2025 and 2030?
A white-coated nurse holding a blue and white, half-litre bag of milk stands in front of a small group of mothers seated near the entrance of the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Kathmandu.
She is explaining the importance of feeding milk to their children, who are lolling on their mothers’ laps. On a table behind the nurse are containers of pulses and legumes and leaning against the wall, charts displaying leafy vegetables.
But later, listening to the women’s stories, it is apparent that solving their children’s problems will require more than a healthy diet. Through tears, Chandra, 24, says she brought her son Raju, 21 months, to the Home after a routine hospital check-up found that he was malnourished.
Just over a year ago President Bidya Bhandari of Nepal launched a new group, Baliyo (strong or mighty) Nepal, created to tackle the persistent malnutrition in the country that stubbornly refuses to be beaten.
Almost immediately a backlash hit. Local media reported that the group was a creation of the Chaudhary Group, one of whose companies makes Wai Wai instant noodles, a type of junk food that can be found in virtually every village of the country. One paper quoted a Chaudhary official saying that Baliyo Nepal would ‘improve’ Wai Wai to feed it to malnourished kids.
In this article I tried to stress how complex it is for Nepal to tackle malnutrition because its causes are tightly linked to other factors such as education status and poverty. Despite great progress in the past couple of decades it looks unlikely that the government will meet the global malnutrition targets for 2025.
‘Young children suffering from undernutrition have poorer school achievement, diminished cognitive and language ability, and more behavioural problems… Adults who were malnourished in childhood have less economic productivity and increased incidence of health problems.’
Malnutrition has long been identified as a major barrier to development in Nepal, and other low-income countries. The solution seems obvious: ensure that children eat enough of a balanced diet so they get the needed proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Two recent projects set out to do just that. The first provided animal source foods (meat, fish, eggs and dairy), vegetables and a diverse diet to children in low-income farming households in Nepal’s Banke district, the second helped women in Bajura to grow vegetables in kitchen gardens. Both succeeded, but would have done even better if the target families didn’t face so many other obstacles to success. Continue reading “Providing better food might be easiest part of tackling malnutrition”