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Tackling chronic malnutrition in Nepal

Jun 04, 2009

A UNDP project in Nepal’s Jumla district is being implemented to provide better health services and reduce malnutrition. As part of efforts to localise MDGs, mothers are taught about proper nutritious diet for their babies and other essential steps to ensure children’s growth.

Jumla, Nepal: The health post in ward number 1, Talichaur in Chandanath village of Jumla district is vibrant with laughter, mixed with cries of children. The mothers are busy putting tags around the neck of their babies. It is the day to weigh their children, the first step to fight malnutrition!

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This health post cum birthing centre provides medical services to people from three villages in the district. One of the children in the crowd is Chandra Narayan Devkota. Going by his weight and height, one would say he is a year old but Chandra turned three recently.

He does not play with the other children but clings to his mother and looks around listlessly at his surroundings. The scale shows that Chandra weighs a little over ten kilograms while a child of his age would normally weigh about 14 kilos.

The auxiliary health worker, Jay Lal Neupane quizzes Laxmi on the quantity and quality of food she is giving him. Laxmi recalls, “He stopped growing when he was six months old but I could not address the problem as I had to toil in the field the whole day and moreover I did not know what to do.”

A year later, when the social mobilisers advised her to take Chandra to the district hospital, it was too late! He was already chronically malnourished. The hospital could not do much for the baby. “They referred me to the International Nepal Fellowship which kept him for 12 days and fed him well which helped him to gain two kilos,” she says.

After that she learnt to feed her baby with sarvottam flour (a mixture of soyabean, corn and barley) that is full of nutrients and essential for a child’s growth. Laxmi is doing her best to ensure that Chandra recovers his health. She is one of the strongest advocates for other mothers in the three villages to get their children weighed and fed properly. “I don’t want other mothers to go through what I went”, she says.

Malnutrition or undernourishment is a major problem in Nepal. The country has one of the highest percentage of undernourished and stunted children. According to the child growth standard chart developed by WHO in 2006, the undernourished children suffer from slow mental growth.

This is due to the fact that 80% of the brain is developed within two years of age. Mothers at the health post say that they cannot give their children anything else than rice, potatoes, and occasionally some spinach and apples in season. Milk is a luxury as livestock cannot survive in the cold climatic conditions of the region.

Jumla is at an altitude of 2370 m and not much grows there. It is one of the most deprived and disadvantaged districts of Nepal. The local people toil hard in the field but the yield is very low. Between April-May 2009, 365 children under the age of five were weighed for signs of malnutrition in Chandanath village and 49 were found to be severely undernourished while more than half were below the safe line. There are only nine health posts for 30 villages which makes it difficult for children to be checked on a regular basis.

Under the auspices of UNDP/SNV Localization of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) project launched in 2007, the Jumla DDC has now allocated budget in their district development plans and programmes to provide better health services and reduce malnutrition. It has also compiled the data which includes the number of malnourished children in all 30 villages of the district.

The author is the National Coordinator, UN Millennium Campaign, Nepal.

Source : UNDP
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