The World Bank and UNICEF recommend that Vietnam work to fight child malnutrition by funding nutrition-related programs, finding out determining factors in undernutrition, and making early intervention, as the issue can hurt the country’s human resources and economic development, the two said on Thursday in a press release.
Child undernutrition remains a significant development challenge in Vietnam, representing a staggering yet avoidable loss to the nation’s human capital and economic growth potential.
The worrying prevalence of undernutrition among Vietnamese children, especially among ethnic minorities, requires a new approach to bring about transformational nutrition outcomes.
The World Bank and UNICEF reaffirmed their strong commitment to work with the government of Vietnam to tackle this issue as the country prepares its Socio-Economic Development Strategy 2021-30.
“The stakes are high – stunting will continue to affect one in every four Vietnamese children, permanently impairing their development and squandering their potential contribution to the economy, unless proper interventions are conducted during a child’s first two years of life,” Ousmane Dione, World Bank country director for Vietnam, was quoted as saying in the press release.
“The stakes are even higher for children from ethnic minorities who are disproportionately affected and have fewer resources.”
While Vietnam has made remarkable progress in improving overall human capital outcomes, reducing undernutrition is a persistent challenge.
According to UNICEF, more than 230,000 children under five years old in Vietnam suffer from severe acute malnutrition every year, which is a major cause of stunting and death in children of the age bracket.
“Ensuring the best possible nutrition for children in the first years will absolutely reap benefits for the physical health of children and it will also fuel their brain development and capacity to learn – thus reducing long term health costs and increasing education outcomes,” Rana Flowers, UNICEF representative in Vietnam, said.
“The provision of micronutrients to children and pregnant women is an investment that governments make in order to achieve a rate of return to their long-term economic growth. Development partners are committed to bringing global expertise and support, and count on the increasing ownership and leadership of the government of Vietnam to address the nutrition challenges.”
A large number of children of ethnic minorities are chronically undernourished.
A new World Bank report, “Persistent Malnutrition in Ethnic Minority Communities of Viet Nam: Issues and Options or Policy and Interventions,” found that nearly one in three ethnic minority children are affected by stunting, more than twice as much as the Kinh majority; and 21 percent of ethnic minority children are underweight, a ratio 2.5 times higher than that of their Kinh peers.
Nutrition interventions are most effective during the first 1,000 days of life, from the first day of pregnancy until the child’s second birthday.
Undernutrition during this period could lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical and cognitive development.
Stunting is linked to lower economic productivity, including a 10-percent reduction in lifetime earnings.
When multiplied across an entire nation, poor nutrition can cost the nation up to three percent of its GDP annually.
As such, the World Bank and UNICEF recommend several policy actions including securing adequate and predictable financing for nutrition-related programs, building multisectoral plans to address the underlying determinants of undernutrition, and scaling up evidence-based interventions.