Mr. Rebates

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

India’s children stunted, says Unicef

India has the largest number of stunted children and one of the highest numbers of underweight children below the age of 5 in the world, according to a latest Unicef report. The country also has one-third of the world’s ‘wasted children’
India has the highest number of stunted children below the age of 5 in the world, according to a latest Unicef report that says 80% of the developing world’s stunted children live in 24 countries. The high number in India is due to the large population; the country ranks 12th on the list of countries led by Afghanistan with a high prevalence of stunted children.  
Approximately 200 million children under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth in the developing world. The report ‘Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition’ found that stunting is primarily caused by childhood under-nutrition, which contributes to more than a third of all deaths among children under the age of 5. 
India also has one of the highest numbers of underweight children below the age of 5, and one-third of ‘wasted children’ -- children who face a greater chance of death -- in the world. Out of a total of 19 million newborns per year in the developing world that are born with low birth weight, India has 7.4 million low birth weight babies per year -- the highest in the world. 
“Under-nutrition steals a child’s strength and makes illnesses that the body might otherwise fight off far more dangerous,” Unicef chief Ann M Veneman said. “More than one-third of children who die of pneumonia, diarrhoea and other illnesses could have survived had they not been undernourished.” 
In 17 countries, underweight prevalence among children under 5 years is greater than 30%. The rates were highest in Bangladesh, India, Timor-Leste and Yemen, with more than 40% of children being underweight. 
The study also found that 13% of children under 5 years in the developing world were wasted, and 5% severely wasted (an estimated 26 million children). Ten countries account for 60% of children in the developing world who suffer from wasting. A number of African and Asian countries have wasting rates that exceed 15%, including India (20%) Bangladesh (17%), and the Sudan (16%). 
The country with the highest prevalence of wasting in the world is Timor-Leste, where 25% of children under 5 are wasted. Timor-Leste is followed by India. 
“At such elevated levels, wasting is considered a public health emergency requiring immediate intervention in the form of emergency feeding programmes,” the report says. The 1,000 days from conception until a child’s second birthday are the most critical for a child’s development, the study suggests. 
Unicef said that together with its partners, which include governments and international aid agencies, it was making progress in improving nutrition for children in the 150 countries it was working in. Still, just 63 out of 117 countries look like they will meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving rates of underweight children between 1990 and 2015. 
Progress has been particularly poor in Africa. Asia is performing a little better, although India is making slow progress. South America is making significant strides. 
On the positive side, the report finds that while 90% of children who are stunted live in Asia and Africa, progress has been made on both continents. In Asia, the prevalence of stunting dropped from about 44% in 1990 to an estimated 30% in 2008, while in Africa it fell from around 38% in 1990 to an estimated 34% in 2008. 
Unicef says promoting breastfeeding as the exclusive source of nutrition for the first six months and continuing breastfeeding until at least 2 years is essential. Providing access to food supplements is also an important part of the solution. 
Many aid programmes are focusing on iodised salt to aid brain development and vitamin A supplements that help bone growth and the body’s ability to fight infection. Such steps, the report suggests, could reduce deaths by a fifth. 
Kitty Arie, a senior policy adviser at the Save the Children charity, points out that poor nutrition has long-term consequences, including lower school performance. “This is an urgent issue that can and must be tackled.” 
How Peru tackled the problem
  • Poor nutrition has traditionally been a problem in Peru.
  • In 1999, the government, in partnership with Unicef and the US International Development Agency, set up the Good Start in Life programme.
  • The project used health staff to provide antenatal support to mothers, promote breastfeeding and offer food supplements in five mainly rural regions.
  • By 2004, more than 75,000 children under 3 were benefiting, and rates of stunted growth fell from 54% to 37%.
  • A national programme is now being rolled out.
Source: PTI, November 12, 2009

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