Stunted growth, which is linked to children’s nutrition, is slowly being eradicated thanks to a current UNICEF initiative in developing countries, and is hoped that the project success is to be accelerated.
‘Our evidence of the progress that is being achieved shows that now is the time to accelerate it”, said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in the recent report ‘Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress’
UNICEF who has projects in 190 countries and territories to help: children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence, through health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS, has been running this program for over 10 years. It aims to help the health and lives of children under the age of five who suffer from stunted growth. “Stunting can kill opportunities in life for a child and kill opportunities for development of a nation,” continued Anthony Lake.
The Improving Child Nutrition report from UNICEF (released on 16th April 2013) details that ‘real progress is being made in the fight against stunted growth’. This is an excellent achievement for this less documented problem, and a massive boast to many countries with a high stunted growth population. In fact ‘globally one in four of all children under 5 is stunted because of chronic under nutrition in crucial periods of growth’, states UNICEF.
One recent success in the stunted growth initiative, has occurred in parts of India which is ‘home to 61 million stunted children‘, said UNICEF. They have confirmed that ‘in Maharashtra, the country's wealthiest state and second most populous, 39 per cent of children under two were stunted in 2005-2006. That however dropped to 23 per cent by 2012, according to a state-wide nutritional survey, largely by supporting frontline workers improving child nutrition’.
Many people incorrectly believe that stunting in a child is just about being too short for his or her age. However, UNICEF have reiterated that stunting in a child is not only about being too short for his or her age, it can also mean suffering from stunted development of the brain and cognitive capacity. ‘The damage done to a child’s body and brain by stunting is irreversible. It drags down performance at school and future earnings. It is an injustice often passed from generation to generation that cuts away at national development. Stunted children are also at a higher risk of dying from infectious diseases than other children’, highlighted Anthony Lake.
UNICEF have estimated that ‘80 per cent of the world’s stunted children live in just 14 countries’ and claim that ‘a key to success against stunting is focusing attention on pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life’. With this in mind, UNICEF has seen successes and has achieved results. They have also highlighted other successes in ‘scaling up nutrition and improving policies, programmes and behaviour change in 11 countries: Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, the United Republic of Tanzania and Vietnam’, said the UNICEF report. It is such initiatives that will hopefully end many restrictions that stunted growth imposes on many of the children living in these developing countries.
Another success has been achieved in Peru, where the UNICEF report confirms that ‘stunting fell by a third between 2006 and 2011 following a Child Malnutrition Initiative that lobbied political candidates to sign a ‘5 by 5 by 5’ commitment to reduce stunting in children under 5 by 5 per cent in 5 years and to lessen inequities between urban and rural areas’. The success in Peru is a great achievement for a country with a population of 29.4 million and over 31% living under the equivalent of $1.25 a day. To ensure the positive results of this program, ‘Peru drew on its experience of successful smaller projects and integrated nutrition with other programmes. It also focused on the most disadvantaged children and women and decentralized government structures’, said Anthony Lake.
Further success has been seen in Ethiopia. Here stunting has been ‘cut from 57 per cent to 44 per cent and under-5 mortality from 139 deaths per 1,000 live births to 77 per 1,000 between 2000 and 2011’, confirmed the UNICEF report. Ethiopia who have a population of 84.73 million and over 38% living under the equivalent of $1.25 a day, have seen a major success because of the ‘key steps’ taken which included a ‘national nutrition programme, providing a safety net in the poorest areas and boosting nutrition assistance through communities’, continued Anthony Lake.
The stunted growth program has and continues to show improved results. Its success results in its simplicity in so far as it ‘focuses on some very simple steps to improve childrens’ nutrition intake’, stated the UNICEF report. One such step for reducing stunting is ‘to improve women’s nutrition, early and exclusive breastfeeding, providing additional vitamins and minerals as well as appropriate food – especially in pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life’, continued the report.
In the Improving Child Nutrition report UNICEF have said, ‘that existing solutions and the work of new partnerships, including the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, create an unprecedented opportunity to address child under nutrition through countries accelerating progress through coordinated projects with donor support and measurable targets’.
This program is testament to the continued work of UNICEF. Let’s hope that this initiative encourages greater awareness of this problem, but also again promotes the important message of child care that UNICEF’s foundations are based upon.
This is one project in which success is gaining momentum and with the help of the greater community this ‘hidden face of poverty for 165 million children under the age of five’ will hopefully have an end in sight.
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