Almost half of Cambodia's 1.5 million children under the age of five suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, which retards their physical and mental development, a nutrition specialist with the Health Ministry has said.
Dr Ou Kevanna, the manager of the ministry's national food supply program, said more than 42 percent of children had stunted growth because of Vitamin A deficiency, which can also cause blindness and leave them susceptible to other ailments.
Treatment and care was a burden for their families and the national economy, Kevanna said on May 6.
He also said pregnant women whose growth had been stunted because of a lack of Vitamin A, and their fetuses, had a higher risk of dying during labor.
Of the 500 women and fetuses who die during childbirth in Cambodia each year, about 90 percent of the mothers were Vitamin A deficient, Kevanna said.
He said mothers should begin providing Vitamin A supplements to their children at six weeks and continue until they were aged five.
Vitamin A is one of 12 recommended supplements which improve life expectancy rates for children, said Kevanna Ngim Chanthavy, the mother of a Vitamin A-deficient 13-month old child who lives in Kampong Thom province’s Barai district, said more should be done to make supplements widely available.
"The government should supply more Vitamin A supplements as well as vaccines, especially to the health centers that provide free medical care," she said.
Chanthavy was interviewed during a visit to the commune by the US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli to distribute Vitamin A supplements provided by USAID.
Mussomeli said USAID was the largest provider of Vitamin A supplements in Cambodia under a $1.8 million project it funded in 2006 to improve child and maternal health.
Mussomeli said the US government had provided $34 million to Cambodia this year to address major health issues.
Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom said during the visit to the commune that the government planned to spend about $100 million on health care this year, including the distribution of Vitamin A and vaccines to children and pregnant women.
Sokhom said the Health Ministry had in 2007 distributed Vitamin A capsules to 87 percent of children aged under five and hoped to achieve 90 percent coverage by 2015.
Last year, the capsules were provided to 60 percent of women who had recently given birth, he said.