Malnutrition in Children is one of the most serious issues Nepal has been facing for decades now. In 2019, great achievements and progress were made in this regard. However, all this progress was basically lost due to the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. The food habits of many families have indeed changed due to the ongoing pandemic. Furthermore, there were prolonged restrictions imposed in the country, which resulted in loss of jobs for many. This then resulted in a lack of affordability of nutritious food for many households in the country.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients or impaired nutrient utilization. The double burden of malnutrition consists of both undernutrition, overweight and obesity, as well as diet-related noncommunicable diseases”. In the context of Nepal, undernutrition is the reason behind diet related diseases and not obesity. Mostly, the children in Nepal are not getting nutritious food in rural areas and districts. Since the beginning of the pandemic, cases of undernutrition have skyrocketed in rural parts of the country.
One such rural area is Benighat Rural Municipality of Dhading district where 400 cases of malnutrition were reported in June/ July 2021. Among those 400 cases, 130 children were suffering from acute malnutrition. The municipal health coordinator told The Kathmandu Post daily, they are trying their best to find more cases and provide the needed treatment. “Food crops produced from our own land are not sufficient to feed most families for a year,” said the coordinator. “People do not have time to think about the malnutrition problems, as they have been struggling to eat a full meal.”
In 2019-2020 there were only 15 cases of malnutrition reported in Darchula district of Nepal; but in the last two months, however, the numbers have increased and a total of 800 cases of malnutrition were reported in the district. As per this report, out of these 800 cases 138 of them are suffering from severe acute malnutrition while the rest are suffering from moderate acute malnutrition. The problem had in fact worsened long before the pandemic, as was stated by the Multiple indicator survey of 2019.
According to the National Planning Commission of Nepal (NPC), 32% of children in Nepal are chronically malnourished. The reason being multidimensional poverty and economic slowdown due to Covid 19 which has immensely impeded the progress made in keeping malnutrition low. Besides, another issue lies with the apparent unawareness of the parents of these malnourished children concerning this problem.
According to the National Planning commission other reasons concerning this issue are:
- Health authorities have their focus on the pandemic and health care workers have focused their attention on covid-19 treatments.
- Vaccination programs for children have been slow in Nepal and doctors fear that if malnourished children get infected with covid-19 their chances of getting serious illness and dying is likely to increase.
- Malnourishment because of lack of diversity in food and limited nutrients in the diet.
- The increased consumption of staple food rather than fresh nutritious food.
- The fact that a nutritious diet is more than twice as expensive as a diet that meets only the requirement of energy diets.
The World Food Program (WFP) supported this study and adopted a food system approach to analyze barriers concerning national diet and to understand the economic barriers which put a block on Nepalese households in affording healthy diets. There is a need from all sectors in improving the status of nutrients in Nepal. For example, there must be investment in nutrition sensitive agriculture, accessibility to healthy food options and food system transformation.
Robert Kasca, the country director for WFP suggested that there is the need for implementation of social security programs and livelihood support programs focusing on the households facing economic barriers. This will help such households to afford nutritious food and to assess nutritional requirements
Malnutrition in the context of Nepal, is not just about not having enough to eat. It is more about lack of knowledge about how to use locally available food. It is also about growing junk food consumption in children. Therefore, to fight this issue, there must be proper research on the barriers that are stopping households from consuming a healthy diet and investments need to be made in nutrition sensitive agriculture. It is important to identify the malnutrition cases and provide proper treatment to the undernourished kids. Also, it is equally important to find the underlying issue and root cause for preventing the rise in the number of malnourished children in the future. Awareness program regarding malnourishment and the importance of nutritious food is a must especially in rural areas. To conclude, it is important for the authorities to further promote locally produced food that is nutrient dense.
By Rojina Luintel
- Kathmandu Post Daily, Health: “Malnutrition cases up several fold amid Covid-19 pandemic”, https://kathmandupost.com/health/2021/09/16/malnutrition-cases-up-several-fold-amid-covid-19-pandemic
- New Business Age, News: “32 Per Cent Children in Nepal Chronically Malnourished: Report”, https://www.newbusinessage.com/Articles/view/14500#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20study%20conducted,that%20of%20the%20richest%20quintile
- Online Khabar, Health & Fitness: “32% of children in Nepal chronically malnourished: Report”, https://english.onlinekhabar.com/children-in-nepal-malnourished.html?fbclid=IwAR3BAW18dWpAeIqf1-uVy5DR3rJSSjp2c6DwcyRpAq2Of8jjKHTPb5jN2uM
- The Himalayan Times, Nepal: “32 per cent children in Nepal chronically malnourished”, https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/32-per-cent-children-in-nepal-chronically-malnourished
- UNICEF, Nepal: “Nutrition”, https://www.unicef.org/nepal/nutrition#:~:text=The%20good%20news%20is%20that,32%20per%20cent%20in%202019
- World Health Organisation (WHO), Health topics: “Malnutrition”, https://www.who.int/health-topics/malnutrition#tab=tab_1