UNICEF: Stunting in children under five years of age has been reduced to 21.2 percent from 33.5 percent in 2010 while anemia prevalence has declined significantly in the last 12 years.

Although Bhutan has outperformed most countries in the region in terms of child care and development, the issue of child growth, diet and food security and care during pregnancy still remains a public health challenge.

The UNICEF goodwill ambassador and Bollywood star, Aamir Khan who was in the country commended Bhutan’s progress. “It is dramatic,” he said.

He said Bhutan is such a caring and progressive society and has set an example to the world. “There is lot to learn from Bhutan,” he added.

While some might argue that things might be easier for a country of a small population, Aamir Khan said it is the manner in which you think and the direction of the thought that is important.

According to the recently published national nutrition survey, 21.2 percent of children aged 0 to 59 months were stunted. Stunting in children from 6 to 59 months of age had however fallen from 37 percent in 2008 and 34.8 percent in 2010 to 22.3 percent in 2015.

The anemia rate for children aged 6 to 59 months has dropped from 80.6 percent in 2003 to 43.8 percent in 2015. But about 25 percent of anemic children are classified as mildly anemic and 18 percent are moderately anemic. Severe anemia in the country is extremely low at 0.4 percent in children less than five years.

The survey also found that despite higher requirements of iron during pregnancy, anemia among pregnant women was lower than in non-pregnant women.

The survey also highlighted that 16 percent of pregnant women were reported consuming alcohol during the week before the survey and 42 percent reported consuming betel nut.

The number of antenatal care visits was found closely related to wealth. Among the richest quintile, 39 percent of women made eight or more visits compared to 17 percent in the poorest quintile. Overall, 85 percent of women have made the recommended minimum of four appointments during their pregnancy.

It was also pointed out that a little over half of women (51 percent) were exclusively breast feeding their children as per the World Health Organisation guidelines.

Aamir Khan also highlighted the importance of a healthy diet and care in children right from the mother’s womb till the age of two. This, he said, is the 1,000 golden days because the damage done in this period is difficult to reverse or treat.

Speaking to the students of Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School, Aamir Khan also highlighted the need to have strong child protection legislations and support systems to combat sexual abuse in children.

“Society needs to be sensitised,” he said, adding schools need to conduct regular workshops for small children. For instance, he said in India, small children are taught to recognise “inappropriate touches” and how to respond.

Talking about his famous Bollywood movie “Tare Zamen Par” the goodwill ambassador said he strongly believes in inclusion. “The ideal situation for children with special needs is that there should not be special schools for them. “They should sit right next to my children,” he said.

Since human beings have multiple intelligence, he said recognising individual intelligence is important.

While there are people who prefer conducting rituals over modern health care, Aamir Khan said faith is important but blind faith sometimes leads us in the wrong direction.

Tshering Dorji