Bangladesh needs a national plan of action on nutrition if the country is to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of reducing stunted growth in children by 2025, a leading researcher has warned.
At least one in every three children under the age of five in Bangladesh suffers from stunted growth, and the total figure of 5.5 million stunted children accounts for 4% of the global total.
The WHO target adopted in a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is for the proportion of stunted children in Bangladesh to fall to 27% by 2025, but at the current rate of reduction it is likely to be around only 32.8% by then.
“In the case of stunting and inequity in Bangladesh, severe disparities exist,” said Anuradha Narayan, the chief of nutrition at UNICEF Bangladesh. “Undernutrition is more prevalent among children whose mothers are less educated, from poor and food insecure families, aged 18-23 months.”
Anuradha was speaking at the launch of a study titled ‘Accelerating Reduction of Undernutrition on Nutrition Governance’ at a conference organised by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) at the Six Seasons Hotel yesterday.
The study states that although Bangladesh has made solid progress in reducing chronic malnutrition - from 45% in 2000 to 36% in 2014 - undernutrition in the first two years of life can affect brain and cognitive development with irreversible damage, affecting school readiness and performance.
In turn, this impacts on economic productivity and can reduce an adult’s earnings by up to 15%.
“The underlying causes for undernutrition are multifactorial. Therefore a multisectoral National Plan of Action on Nutrition is imperative,” Anuradha said.
According to an analysis from the Copenhagen Consensus Center, investments in nutrition can increase GDP by 3-8% which could lead to an increase in economic productivity in Bangladesh of over Tk7,000 crore in the next 10 years.
Food Laureate and Co-winner of World Food Prize 2016, Dr Howarth Bouis, presented a keynote paper at the conference on Tuesday titled ‘Agriculture’s Primary Role to Provide Nutritious Diets for National Health’.
“Agriculture is the center of the discussion on nutrition since the policies affect the national health of a country,” he said.
Chief guest, Dr Mashiur Rahman, the economic affairs advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said: “In order to eliminate malnutrition we must give utmost importance to children and pregnant mothers, and increase the nutrition awareness.”
UNICEF’s Country Representative Edouard Beigbeder said: “Children now constitute 40% of Bangladesh’s population but will be 100% of our future. The time to act is now.”