Protein malnutrition plaguing children

Kathmandu, August 17:

Four out of 10 children (under five years of age) are underweight in Nepal, the Child Health Division under the Department of Health Services (DHS) says, attributing the phenomenon to prevalence of the Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM).

With only one per cent annual reduction in instances of PEM among the children aged between 6 and 59 months, it will take another 100 years to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition to the desired level and do away with it as a public health problem.

Moreover, 0.52 per cent annual reduction in stunting (low height for age) and 0.16 per cent annual reduction in wasting (low weight for height) have been observed.

“Our goal is to reduce the PEM by 90 per cent at least, but our current situation is really appalling. If we move ahead at the same pace, it will take another 100 years to achieve this goal,” says Raj Kumar Pokharel, chief of the nutrition section at the CHD.

According to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG), the prevalence should be reduced by 50 per cent by 2015.

A recently-published demographic health report has shown that 39 per cent of children are underweight, stunting is prevalent in 49 per cent of children and wasting in 13 per cent of the children. In the year 2001, 43 per cent of children were underweight, the prevalence of stunting was 57 per cent and the prevalence of wasting was 11 per cent.

Though various programmes were launched in the past to decrease the prevalence of malnutrition, they failed to produce the desired result, Pokharel says. “Now we are going to do the same thing differently.”

According to Pokharel, immediate intervention and sector-wise approaches should be expanded and strengthened.

“Exclusive and complementary breast-feeding practices should be reinforced.”

The CHD is preparing community-based dietary guidelines with the focus on appropriate dietary practices in communities. It is launching infant and young child feeding programmes in regions, zones and districts. It is also imparting training to health workers and mothers’ groups in zones and districts.

International agencies like Japan International Cooperation Agency, United Nations Children Fund are ready to impart financial assistance for these programmes, says Pokharel. “The CHD’s major focus this year is to work as much as possible to raise awareness among the people.”