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.
I’ve been reading about social determinants of health for some years now, but I had to see this phenomenon in practice before I truly ‘got it’.
It’s one thing to understand an issue or fact intellectually, another to experience it first-hand. That’s been made clear to me twice recently concerning health care here in Nepal and what are sometimes called ‘social determinants of health.’
One of my current projects is reporting about malnutrition during Covid-19. I contacted the Nutrition Home close to Kathmandu hoping to speak to the guardian of a child who had been admitted because they were 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”
Nepali Times newspaper, which I’ve been connected with on and off since 2005, celebrated its 1,000th issue and 20-year anniversary on 6 March. Congratulations to founder, publisher and Nepali Times dynamo Kunda Dixit!
I wrote an article in Friday’s paper to mark the occasion. See it on the Times website, and below:
Times change, but the Nepali Times stays the same
It was easy for me to get in the door of the Nepali Times after I first moved to Nepal in 2005: Editor Kunda Dixit and I shared ties with the Inter Press Service News agency – me from North America, he from Asia. Continue reading “Happy Birthday Nepali Times!”
A study finding that infants in Kathmandu are getting 25% of their calories from junk foods was a major talking point in Nepal last week.
Looking at the article in The Journal of Nutrition, it is also surprising that among the 700 or so kids studied, the group who ate the most junk food were shorter than the average, not fatter as might be expected.
Shorter than average is a description of stunting, a major marker of childhood malnutrition. Decades ago Nepal had extremely high rates of stunting, which is also an indicator of a country’s development, but managed to reduce it greatly. Still, the country is not on track to meet the 2030 target of the Sustainable Development Goals: 15% of children under 5 stunted.
Below is my article published today in Nepali Times, online.
Two articles that I wrote about malnutrition in Nepal were published in today’s Nepali Times weekly. One is about a shocking case from Saptari district, the other focused on the government’s plan to fight malnutrition.
Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions for follow-up work. This is a complex but important issue.