CHILD nutrition scenario has slightly improved in some aspects. Yet it still remains a matter of deep concern. Public health experts at a national advocacy programme in Dhaka, as New Age reported on Wednesday, rightly pointed out that child nutrition remains a major national challenge, with 36 per cent of children below five years of age being stunned and high rates of micronutrient deficiencies recorded. Poor infant and young child feeding practices are also observed. Although, according to health ministry, there is a decline in the rate of stunting from 42 per cent in 2011 to 36 per cent in 2014, still one out of three children in Bangladesh are suffering from it. Unless the government reverses this trend of stunting, there would be stunted growth of 16 lakh children by 2025. A severe disparity in nutritional scenario exists by geographical locations and educational and economic status. According to UNICEF, despite the Institute of Public Health Nutrition’s project to address child and maternal nutritional needs, initiated in 2011 spanning across 43 districts, there are 55 lakh children who are deprived of proper nutrition. These figures are indicative of an impending public health crisis. It is high time that the government recognised the problem of paediatric malnutrition and made it a priority public health concern by allocating resources.
It is evident from various studies that there is a direct relation between the investments in nutrition and the gross domestic product. According to a World Bank paper, a country’s productivity may be lost by 1.4 per cent because of 1 ne per cent loss in adult height as a result of childhood stunting. However, the budgetary allocation for health and nutrition in Bangladesh is one of the lowest among the world. Despite having per capita GDP lower than Bangladesh, Nepal and Uganda has a lower stunting rate. According to a Nutrition Background Paper of the Planning Commission, childhood stunting rate in Bangladesh reduced to 37 per cent in 2013 when globally it reduced to 27 per cent in 2010. The same paper revealed that in 2015, 2.4 million children below five years suffered from wasting and 6,00,000 children suffered from severe acute malnutrition whose risk of death is 12 times higher that the healthy ones. It will, therefore not be unfounded to suggest that the child nutrition projects and policies taken by government and non-government organisations have failed to reverse the acute malnutrition, particularly in rural areas.
The government must, therefore, increase its budgetary allocation for the health and nutrition sector, especially for children. In doing so, it must enhance school feeding programme in areas where the malnutrition rate is high. In addition, a strong monitoring mechanism needs to be in place to see the projects taken to improve child nutrition is effectively making an impact. The government’s commitment to globally assigned sustainable development goal that is to end hunger and improve nutrition would, otherwise, prove to be futile.
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