Representatives from two provinces in Lao PDR have agreed on a comprehensive new approach to reducing stunting.
The new initiative will include a focus on diversified food production, delivering better healthcare, providing clean water, improving sanitation facilities and enhancing social safety net programmes.
Lao PDR has a significantly high prevalence of stunting in children affecting approximately 44% of those under 5; however, this figures varies across the country.
Despite a decline in child mortality, Lao PDR has one of the highest stunting levels in South East Asia as its neighbouring countries have dramatically reduced their levels of stunting in the last 20 years.
There is a wide disparity between socio-economic groups in Lao PDR with the highest mortality rates and stunting levels for the poorest communities. For example, children in the poorest quintile are up to four times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than those from the richest.
The stunting rate among young children living in households with poor water and sanitation facilities is higher (51%) than that of children in households with access to improved water and sanitation facilities (34%).
Stunted growth has damaging long term effects as it impairs brain development, lowers IQ, weakens immune systems and increases risk of serious diseases like diabetes and cancer later in life.
Similarly, economists estimate that stunting can reduce a country’s GDP by 12%.
Dr. Kikeo Chanthabouly, Vice Minister of Planning and Investment, said of the plans:
“Stunting due to malnutrition is a critical issue for Lao PDR, as it affects far more than children’s height. Stunting can prevent proper brain development in children and have long-term impact on their abilities to learn, work, and reach their full potential. The implications for our country are enormous”
The multi-sectoral approach will target the first 1000 days of a child’s life as this is the most critical period for their development.
Jean-Christophe Carret, World Bank Country Manager for Lao PDR, added:
“Experience in reducing malnutrition in other countries around the globe has proven that success requires a coordinated multi-sector approach. The World Bank looks forward to supporting Lao PDR in undertaking this new approach, under their National Nutrition Strategy, to tackle an important challenge”
The approach will follow the processes of other countries that have demonstrated great success in addressing chronic malnutrition. To ensure the multiple aspects of chronic malnutrition are being addressed the World Bank will support and adjust projects to provide long term support.
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Image credit: Sharon Ang