Cambodia's childhood malnutrition gains are stagnating, and as the country continues to have better access to mobile phones than latrines, the government is taking action to address the health and sanitation issues that are thwarting healthy development among the nation’s youngest.
The government yesterday launched a five-year action plan on early childhood care and development, aiming to curb the diarrhoeal diseases and lack of sanitation awareness contributing to over 2,300 children’s deaths every year.
“Our children’s welfare, nutrients and education are key issues we must address with compassion and love; they are the successors of our society,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said during yesterday’s launch. “I fully support every activity in Cambodia aimed to address the urgent needs of the children.”
The $56 million plan aims to increase latrine coverage; promote information on childhood health, nutrition and sanitation; educate parents and caregivers, including on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months after birth; and increase enrolment in preschool for children aged 3 to 5.
“Until we address children’s and parents’ access to nutrition and hygiene, and put an end to open defecation, children will not be able to achieve their full potential,” said Rana Flowers, country director for UNICEF.
With only 24.7 per cent of rural households equipped with a toilet, according to the government, Cambodia continues to have one of the worst open defecation rates in Southeast Asia, contributing to high levels of illness. A lack of particular nutrients also plays a direct role in inhibiting children’s physical and intellectual growth.
Current figures show that 40 per cent of Cambodians under 6 suffer from stunting, 28 per cent are underweight, and wasting has increased to almost 11 per cent, up from 8 per cent in 2005.
“When children are affected by stunting, parents tend to wait to send them to school.… When they start at 8 or 9 years old, by the time they get to upper grades and are overage, they drop out for work,” said Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron, adding that it’s been estimated that every dollar spent on improving sanitation generates an average economic return of $7.