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Child malnutrition in the spotlight

Child malnutrition in the spotlight

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A child beggar crawls onto a bench on the promenade next to the Tonle Sap river yesterday in Phnom Penh. Child malnutrition is rife in Cambodia, according to the WHO.

One out of three children of less than five years of age is malnourished

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Experts believe child malnutrition is one of the biggest health problems facing Cambodia, which is one of 15 countries identified by the World Health Organisation as having the highest global malnutrition rates.

In a conference attended by some 160 health experts and journalists from 18 countries, held in Sri Lanka from August 10 to 12, the WHO warned that the failure to address the issue would have an impact beyond health concerns and could have dire social and economic consequences.

Malnutrition is a factor in 11 percent of global diseases and can lead to long-term poor health and disability problems, as well as poor educational and development outcomes, the organisation warned.  

Joel Conkle, nutrition specialist for the child survival programme at the United Nations Children’s Fund in Cambodia, said that malnutrition was implicated in more than 6,400 child deaths annually in the Kingdom.

“The issue of malnutrition should be taken quite seriously. One out of three children of less than five years of age is malnourished,” said Conkle.

La-Ong Tokmoh, technical officer on nutrition at the WHO’s Phnom Penh office, added that child malnutrition was more prevalent in Cambodia than many neighbouring countries in South-east Asia, but was on par with Laos.

“I think the malnutrition issue in Cambodia remains serious,” she said.

The government is set to act and plans to conduct a nationwide campaign this year to help tackle the problem.

Dr Ou Kevanna, manager of National Nutrition Programme at Cambodia’s Ministry of Health, attended the Colombo workshop.

He acknowledged that malnutrition – which experts say can be caused by poverty, poor living conditions and a lack of government-level concern – remained high in Cambodia and caused a variety of child health problems.

However, he highlighted a number of measures being put in place to increase awareness.

At the end of this year, the government will conduct a nationwide campaign on the importance of providing extra nutrition to children aged between six months and 24 months.

The government strategy is to emphasise the importance of breastfeeding for infants and better educate mothers on what to feed their children.

“We have done lots of work on the nutrition issue with children in the villages, communities or so on … rural people, in particular women, better understand how to provide nutrition to their children,” he said.  

But Dr Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO’s regional office for the Western Pacific, said that while progress has been made throughout the region, there was “still a lot to do because we have not reached the most vulnerable groups”.

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