AAMIR KHAN: Fighting Stunting

At a time when over 40 percent of children in South Asia have been facing stunting, Indian actor Amir Khan has joined the campaign to fight stunting

Oct. 18, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -9 October. 18- 2014 (Kartik 01, 2071)

Jashu Khadka, 23, a resident of Biruwa of Sirutar Village Development Committee of Lalitpur district, did not know what went wrong with her 2-year old daughter whose height has yet to grow. She took the baby to the traditional healers in Bhaktapur. However, nothing improved.

Although the mother went from house to house for advice, nothing helped her. Finally, the advice of the Female Health Volunteers from the nearby village gave her some relief as the health and weight status of the child began to change somehow now.

“I am happy to say that my child’s health has improved now after taking medicine from Hospital and feeding as advised by the hospital staff,” said Jashu, who lives just 10 kilometers east of the capital.

At a time when stunting has become a major challenge in South Asia, accepting UNICEF ambassador post to fight stunting in South Asia, popular film actor, director and producer Aamir Khan  has generated hope for these children.

UNICEF has been supporting the program in South Asia to end stunting. In his capacity, Amir Khan will support UNICEF’s work to promote the right of the South Asian children to nutrition, with a focus on ending stunting.

“I am delighted to become an Ambassador for UNICEF in South Asia. I was born in a relatively better economy of a family of urban India, thus I had a different situation. As children born in the remote parts of rural South Asia within poor economic conditions, their status is often miserable,” said Khan.

“I hope my messages on the importance of children’s nutrition will urge parents, families, and leaders at all levels to support and adopt proven services and nutrition practices that will help children grow and develop to their full potential,” Khan said at a press conference.

“Child stunting remains one of the greatest development challenges to South Asia. Stunted children have stunted bodies, stunted brains, and stunted lives. Compared with children who are not stunted, stunted children have poorer cognitive development, often enrol later in school, complete fewer grades, and learn less well –  leading to reduced productivity and income-earning in adult life,” Khan added.

After sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia is the region with the highest number of under-five deaths: 2.3 million in 2011. In this region, 38 per cent of children under the age of five have stunted growth due to chronic under-nutrition. In addition, an estimated 28 per cent of children are born with low birth weight, largely due to women’s poor nutrition during and before pregnancy.

“With the immense respect that Aamir Khan commands across South Asia, we are convinced that Aamir will make a lasting difference in the fight against child stunting, potentially the biggest threat to children’s growth and development in this part of the world,” said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.

During his visit to Nepal, actor Khan also took part in the launch of the “1,000 Golden Days” national nutrition campaign. The most crucial time to meet a child’s nutritional needs is during the 1,000 days from conception to the child’s second birthday. Proven and effective interventions during this time can prevent malnutrition and drastically reduce the prevalence of stunting in young children.

Yet, pervasive poverty and disparities prevent millions of children in South Asia from living in dignity, reaching their potential and making choices about their own future.

A recent United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report shows that Nepal is among 10 countries in the world with the highest stunting prevalence, and one of the top 20 countries with the highest number of stunted children.

UNICEF explains stunting as chronic under-nutrition during critical periods of growth and development between the ages of 0-59 months. The consequences of stunting are irreversible and in Nepal the condition affects 41 percent of children under the age of five.

A 2013 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by Nepal’s National Planning Commission (NPC) says while the number of stunted children declined from 57 percent in 2001 to 41 percent in 2011, it is still high above the 30 percent target set by the U.N..

Food insecurity is one of the biggest contributing factors to stunting in Nepal. Rugged hills and mountains comprise 77 percent of the country’s total land area, where 52 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people live.

Food insecurity is the worst in the central and far western regions of the country; the prevalence of stunting in these areas is also extreme, with rates above 60 percent in some locations.

Nepal is also one of the first countries to commit to the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which recognizes multiple causes of malnutrition and recommends that partners work across sectors to achieve nutritional goals.

Thus, in 2012, five ministries in Nepal came together with the NPC and development partners to form the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP).

Public health experts say MSNP is a living example of the SUN movement in action and offers interventions with the aim of reducing the current prevalence of malnutrition by one-third.

Stunting is a key factor holding back progress and well-being of children. Nepal faces a significant challenge with tens of thousands of children under five who are stunted, says a multi-sectoral report released by various organizations.

According to the report, about 41 per cent of Nepali children under five are suffering from stunting, a measure of chronic under nutrition. The consequences of acute malnutrition are profound, irreversible and lifelong. It heightens children’s risk of death and damages the brain, ultimately impacting the physical development and the general health and well-being of a nation.

The Multi Sector Nutrition Plan (2013–2017) formulated by National Planning Commission (NPC) was regarded as a milestone in Nepal's nutrition sector.

Malnutrition has been a silent emergency in this country; insidious and pervasive, affecting the health, intellectual capacity and productivity of Nepalis, from generation to generation.

The aim of the plan is to reduce chronic malnutrition by one third over the next 5 years, and within 10 years, bring it down to the level that it no longer hampers the human development capital.

Nepal intensified the campaigns to raise awareness of good feeding practices among the rural poor and prevent stunting by distributing ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), but public perceptions of feeding undermine the efforts.

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