To help address acute malnutrition in Cambodia, Helen Keller International, supported by the Ministry of Health, has launched a project to treat and care for children with moderate to severe malnutrition in three target provinces.

Speaking at a January 27 seminar, Hu Kreun, director of Helen Keller, said the long-term project will run from 2023 to 2027 and will be implemented in Takeo, Siem Reap and Kampong Chhnang provinces.

He added that the project aims to contribute to the reduction of malnutrition in children under 5. It will be run in Bati and Daun Keo districts of Takeo province, Siem Reap town and Soutr Nikom district in Siem Reap, and Kampong Tralach and Boribo districts in Kampong Chhnang.

“We expect more than 1,000 children to receive treatment for acute malnutrition in the first year of its implementation,” he said.

He explained that although child nutrition is a top priority in Cambodia’s national development documents, policy plans and programmes are not adequately linked to investment. With inadequate resources, it is estimated that only 10 per cent of the Kingdom’s 60,000 severely malnourished children are being treated.

Prak Sophonneary, health ministry secretary of state, said the ministry would focus on training health officials and village health support groups to recognise signs of malnutrition in children, so they could access appropriate treatment.

“Through this project, children under the age of five who suffer from acute, moderate and severe malnutrition will receive free treatment at local health facilities. At the same time, malnourished children will receive a dietary supplement called ‘Nutrix’, which is made from local fish,” he added.

The January 27 seminar presented the preliminary findings of the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2021-2022, which showed that about 10 per cent of Cambodian children are underweight. This statistic may increase in the coming years, due to the ongoing socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. These crises threaten household food security through rising prices, inflation and loss of income.

While addressing malnutrition has been a part of the Kingdom’s budget priority list since 2017, the allocated budget is only sufficient to treat 3,200 cases of severe malnutrition per year. This allocation covers food procurement but does not allow for the expense of expanding the programme.

It is expected that the five-year project will reduce the level of malnutrition among Cambodian children. Malnutrition can lead to limited physical and mental development, and an increased mortality rate.