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UN fights malnutrition with snack

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A woman washes dishes with her son on the side of a dirt road in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district. Unicef has launched fish-based Nutrix to assist in the fight against malnutrition. Hong Menea

UN fights malnutrition with snack

The production of Nutrix, a new fish-based wafer snack, was launched in Phnom Penh on Monday to assist in the fight against “severe acute child malnutrition” in Cambodia. The Nutrix facility is the first of its kind in the Kingdom and only the second in the East Asia and Pacific region.

Nutrix has been produced by UN children’s agency Unicef, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), Copenhagen University (CU) and Danish Care Foods (DCF), in collaboration with the government.

At its launch in the capital, the partners announced that the ready-to-use therapeutic food would be produced on a large scale.

Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said: “The launch of the local production of this innovative therapeutic food marks an important step towards reaching the government’s goal of treating at least 25,000 children with severe acute malnutrition per year.

“The start of the production facility will help ensure that a local commodity to treating severe acute malnutrition is available. Over the past five years, many partners have supported us to develop this product, and we are hopeful that this new partnership will help us reach more children with severe acute malnutrition.”

Some 2.6 per cent of children in Cambodia have been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, Unicef says. To treat them, home-based ready-to-use therapeutic foods are prescribed as a treatment and without these, many children may need to be hospitalised.

Unicef East Asia and Pacific deputy regional director Wivina Belmonte said during the launch that over five million children under the age of five in the East Asia and Pacific region are affected annually by severe acute malnutrition, a major cause of death in those under five years of age.

She said ending severe acute malnutrition was challenging and required social-political will.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia should be congratulated for prioritising this issue and for strengthening treatment in all settings."

“Cambodia joins one of two countries in the region to produce its own ready-to-use therapeutic food,” she said, adding that she hoped it would reach remote and poor communities through local health facilities.

Unicef says malnutrition causes approximately 4,500 child deaths annually, which accounts for roughly one-third of all child mortality.

It estimates that between 60,000 and 90,000 children in Cambodia need specialised medical treatment annually, including therapeutic foods, while 32 per cent of children under five face stunted growth, and 10 per cent suffer from wasting – severe acute malnutrition. Unicef says around one in every four children are underweight.

“By using a product adapted to local tastes and local preferences we can make a real impact on malnutrition in Cambodia. This is important because besides the 2.6 per cent of children with severe acute malnutrition, another eight per cent suffer moderate acute malnutrition in Cambodia, which is a staggering number,” IRD’s Dr Frank Wieringa said.

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