In 2019, the malnutrition rate in Nepal was 43% for children under 5 years old. Malnutrition is defined as a lack of nutrition and can be a result of either being underfed or not eating enough nutritious foods. When children suffer from chronic malnutrition, it can result in stunting, which can permanently affect a child’s growth physically and cognitively. For the first two decades after 1990, malnutrition in Nepal decreased. Thereafter, malnutrition progress slowed down. Currently, malnutrition in Nepal is still a serious issue that needs addressing.
Malnutrition in Numbers
Nearly 66% of children between 0-5 months old are exclusively breastfed. Between 6-24 months old, only 36% of babies receive a minimum acceptable diet. Additionally, as little as 47% of these children receive diversified diets with the proper nutrients.
Mother Fights Malnutrition
To help fight malnutrition, adolescent girls, women and children, need access to better nutritious diets and associated nutritional care. According to UNICEF, “The first 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy to a child’s second birthday offer an extraordinary window of opportunity for preventing undernutrition and its consequences.” In this critical period, preventative intervention is vital. This includes breastfeeding support, supplementary foods for infants and micronutrient supplementation for women and children.
Bimala Chaudhary is an example of a mother who has been educated on the importance of nutrition. On a monthly basis, Chaudhary participates in a mothers’ group meeting where female community health volunteers teach mothers about how to improve both their own nutrition and the nutrition of their children. The mothers have been taught lessons that include the importance of handwashing and how to prepare nutritious porridge.
The health volunteers also visit Chaudary’s home to provide one-on-one nutritional counseling. A USAID-supported radio program called Mother Knows Best further emphasizes the lessons she learns through the women’s group. She also receives SMS messages to remind her to take her daughter for visits at the clinic in order to monitor progress.
To help the community, Chaudhary shares what she learns from the meetings with other mothers. Her end goal is to make sure no children are malnourished in the future.
Since the 1990s, a lot of progress has been made to fight malnutrition in Nepal. The current country program (2018-2022) works to improve nutrition in Nepal. Adolescents, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, infants and young children receive special focus. UNICEF supports the Government of Nepal in the implementation of comprehensive nutritional strategies. These strategies include deworming children, vitamin A supplementation, iron folate supplementation and nutritional education and counseling.
The Nepal Youth Foundation has developed child malnutrition treatment centers. These Nutrition Rehabilitation Homes (NRHs) treat severely malnourished children, teach mothers about children’s health and train professionals on best nutritional practices. These homes bring in critically-underweight children for three to four weeks to help improve their health through a monitored diet. For a long-term solution, caregivers and mothers are taught how to make nutritious meals. They are then encouraged to share these lessons with their communities. Since the first NRH was opened in 1998, 15,000 malnourished children have been restored back to health.
Food for the Future
By increasing the nutritional education of communities, malnutrition in Nepal can improve. With both short and long-term solutions, organizations like UNICEF and the Nepal Youth Foundation improve the lives of mothers and children.
– Sarah Kirchner