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Dec 10, 2019 / 17:13

Vietnam: Ethnic minority children are disproportionately undernourished

The next phase of efforts on undernutrition should be more targeted, concentrating on the provinces with the highest burdens, to create a breakthrough.

Malnutrition is particularly widespread among ethnic minority children in Vietnam, with stunting ratesamong the highest in the world, according to a new report launched on December 10 by the World Bank (WB) and Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition.

The report finds that one in three children of ethnic minorities in Vietnam suffers from stunting, while one in five is underweight. To address this, the report calls for a tailored and innovative approach that takes into account the unique geographical and cultural challenges facing this group.

  The launching event of the book. Photo: WB

“Despite Vietnam’s impressive progress in reducingthe overall rate of undernutrition over the past two decades, ethnic minority children still lag behind, and the disparity is widening,” WB Country Director for Vietnam Ousmane Dione said. “The next phase of efforts on undernutrition should be more targeted, concentrating on the provinces with the highest burdens, to create a breakthrough.”

Because the window of opportunity for adequate nutrition for optimal health and physical and cognitive development is short, spanning the first 1,000 days of life, any undernutrition occurring during this period can lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical growth and brain development.

The report stressed that interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child bearing age.

The report noted that among ethnic minorities, only 39% of children aged 6-23 months received a nutritionally adequate diet. Meanwhile, just 32.7% of mothers aged 15-49 made prenatal care visits whereby they were provided with essential vitamins and minerals, and nutrition counseling.

The report also emphasized that cultural norms play a significant role. Early marriage and adolescent pregnancy are still common among ethnic minority women, with 23.9% starting child-bearing between the age of 15 and 19. Equally important is the reluctanceofmany members of communities toparticipate in preventive and curative health services.

Ultimately, child undernutrition is rooted in poverty. Ethnic minority groups in Vietnam made up 14% of the country’s population but accounted for 73% of the poor in 2016.

The report proposed key steps that Vietnam could take to improve nutritional outcomes for ethnic minority children, as follows:

* Build a strong and more coordinated partnership for nutrition with high-level government leadership and a well-functioning coordination among stakeholders.

* Secure adequate financing for nutrition.

* Implement at scale well-proven direct nutrition interventions.

* Address the underlying determinants of undernutrition through multisectoral approaches.