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Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress

Print version
17 April 2013

TASHKENT, 17 April 2013The 1,000 days from a mother’s pregnancy to the child’s second birthday are the most crucial time to meet a child’s nutritional requirements, says a new UNICEF report, “Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress”.

The report confirms that a key to success against stunting and undernutrition is focusing attention on pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. Rapid physical and mental development of a child occurs during this period. Evidence from 54 low- and middle-income countries indicates that the damage caused by growth deficiencies is irreversible. It negatively affects a child’s school attendance and performance. This, in turn, can reduce the amount of money an adult can earn per year by as much as 22 per cent. Data from 2006 suggest that stunting and undernutrition can cause nations to lose at least 2 to 3 per cent of their gross domestic product.

The health status of a child is influenced by the following broad factors: quality food and optimal feeding, healthcare and immunization, access to safe water with improved sanitation and good hygiene practices. However, preventing and treating diseases are just as important as providing affordable, diverse and nutrient-rich food.

The UNICEF report offers evidence that accelerated progress is both possible and necessary. It highlights proven, low-cost interventions that help prevent stunting and other forms of undernutrition – such as improving women’s nutrition, especially before, during and after pregnancy; early and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life of a child; timely, safe, appropriate complementary feeding thereafter; and providing adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Around the world, UNICEF is working to build political commitment among governments and partners to reduce stunting and other forms of undernutrition; support the design and implementation of comprehensive evidence-based national policies and programmes; strengthen the capacity of health and community workers; develop effective communication and advocacy; promote multi-sectoral delivery of services and supply.

In Uzbekistan, UNICEF supports the Government to address nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies among the entire population with an emphasis on children and pregnant women by food fortifications, the promotion of good nutritional practices among families, and the improved monitoring of feeding practices and micronutrient deficiencies.

UNICEF works with the Ministry of Health and other partners to promote breastfeeding and optimal feeding practices through the “Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative” and the Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) programme respectively. UNICEF also promotes the consumption of iodized salt and fortified with iron and folic acid flour at households, so that families could prevent micronutrient deficiencies related disorders.

In Karakalpakstan, UNICEF has supported introducing home-fortification of foods with micronutrients (“Sprinkles”) within the IYCF programme. The “Sprinkles” package consists of an optimal WHO –recommended combination of iron, iodine, zinc, vitamins A and B to reduce micronutrient deficiencies and iron deficient anaemia among children from 6 to 24 months old.

UNICEF also supports vitamin A supplementation to improve the health of children up to age 5. Up to date, 18 national rounds of supplementation were organized, reaching the coverage of 98%. In 2012, a package of integrated health interventions was introduced in Karakalpakstan through “Healthy Child Weeks”, which combined distribution of vitamin A and deworming tablets to more than 200,000 children of 1-5 years old and family counseling on child health and nutrition issues.

In addition, the Improvement of Mother and Child Health Services Project which is now being implemented will introduce participatory and community-based programmes to enhance the capacity of families to follow recommended child feeding and hygiene practices in both Namangan region and Karakalpakistan.

In partnership with the Ministries of Health and Public Education, UNICEF has also piloted the “Hygiene Championship Initiative” and Hygiene Promotion Weeks, to prevent infectious diseases among children by promoting good hygiene, water and sanitation practices at schools and communities.

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UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized. We have the global authority to influence decision-makers, and the variety of partners at grassroots level to turn the most innovative ideas into reality. That makes us unique among world organizations, and unique among those working with the young.

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