Individual and societal behavioural changes have had an impact on food security and nutrition situation that requires additional attention to combating malnutrition in all its forms, as they pose threats to public health and Cambodia’s economic growth.

Yim Chhay Ly, chairman of the Council for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), spoke on the topic during the opening session of the workshop on “Working together to fill the shortcomings of the Global Action Plan and respond to the problem of child wasting”, held in Phnom Penh on October 18.

He said food security and nutrition have played an important role in contributing to the development of human resources, increasing work efficiency, promoting economic growth and social progress.

According to Chhay Ly, urban development, migration, climate change, demographic trend and socio-economic growth have significantly changed Cambodians’ lifestyles.

“These individual and societal behaviour changes have impacted the food security and nutrition situation, which requires more attention to combating malnutrition in all its forms. This problem has people facing new challenges that pose threats to their health and also threatens our potential economic growth,” he said.

If there is no attention paid to solving challenges related to health, food security and nutrition, the benefits of economic development will decrease via unseen losses from malnutrition and the costs of care and treatment for non-communicable disease like diabetes, strokes and heart disease, he added.

To achieve real progress on the promotion of food security and nutrition systematically, he said Prime Minister Hun Sen has mapped out action plans to achieve this vision for the food system by 2030, which could also be facilitated through active participation in international cooperation frameworks, both regional and global.

CARD secretary-general Sok Silo said that in May last year, Cambodia successfully prepared a roadmap on a global action plan to reduce the number of children afflicted by wasting under their lead as coordinator.

He added that the roadmap identifies 13 provinces as having the highest demographic priorities for reducing child wasting: Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Kratie, Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Kampong Thom and Takeo.

Prak Sophorn Neary, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said that since 2000, Cambodia has made significant progress in improving access to quality primary healthcare and healthcare delivery by medical experts on promoting good nutrition and healthy diet.

Citing the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) 2021, she said the stunting rate for children under the age of 5 had reduced from 32 per cent in 2012 to 22 per cent in 2021. However, concerns remained that the rate of wasting has not been changing and has remained at 10 per cent for many years.

Some provinces have a stunting rate of around 30 per cent, indicating that it is beyond the normal parameters for the Kingdom and has reached an urgent level, she said.

“Since 2018, the government has increased the national budget to buy food to feed children with severe malnutrition, because it is estimated that a total of 60,000 children with severe malnutrition are treated each year but only about 10 per cent of children with wasting received treatment,” she added.

Sophorn Neary also said the ministry and relevant organisations need to strengthen their searches for children with mild wasting by monitoring their growth, doctor’s referrals and medical treatments – an effort that will be expanded to the provinces.

According to a press release from UNICEF in Cambodia, children who suffer from wasting – also known as acute malnutrition – are 11 times more likely to die than well-nourished children, and those who survive often experience lifelong consequences.

The government’s goal is to halve child wasting by 2025, the press release states. Despite progress in reducing stunting since 2014, child wasting has not improved and remains at 10 per cent, according to the preliminary results of the 2021 CDHS.

UNICEF Cambodia acting representative Anirban Chatterjee said the right to health and development is every child’s most fundamental right. Challenges in recent years from the pandemic to the global food system disruptions have threatened this right and that this in turn threatens children’s health, their ability to learn and their future prospects.

“That is why today we have redoubled our efforts to prevent wasting by increasing investment, scaling up multi-sector programmes targeting children and women and strengthening social protection measures to promote and protect child nutrition,” said Chatterjee.