Lhakpa Quendren

Stunting in children is expected to see a significant drop when the national health survey 2023, scheduled to begin in the second quarter of this year, is completed.

The last national nutrition survey in 2015 showed that one-fifth or 21.2 percent of Bhutanese children under five were stunted. The prevalence was higher among the children in the poorest of the population.

A nutritionist with the health ministry’s public health department, Hari Prasad Pokhrel, said that significant progress was being made in the fight against malnutrition. “We expect a significant improvement in child nutrition over the years.”

To address malnutrition in children, the health ministry in 2019 introduced micronutrient powders for children of six to 23 months.

“It has 15 micronutrients which will address anemia and, to some extent, fight the hidden hunger,” he said, adding that this would also address the whole spectrum of other micronutrient deficiencies.

Along with stunting, anemia prevalence in children under age five years was 43.8 percent which, he said, was a huge public health concern in the country.

“If we look at the physical dimension, it is a short height. But more than that cognitive growth and everything would be hampered,” he said.

Hari Prasad Pokhrel said that the health ministry was also working on developing a preconception care package.

“Through this, we will reach out to the adolescent population and encourage them to come and get counselling services if they are planning for pregnancy so that maternal nutrition can be improved and fetal nutritional status is improved,” he said.

To improve the micronutrient status of pregnant and lactating mothers, the health ministry has plans to introduce multiple micronutrient supplements this year.

“The child will get this required nutrient through the breast milk. As the child turns six months, you start complimentary food and then the child will get the required nutrients from the micronutrient powders,” said Hari Prasad Pokhrel. “The stunting starts right at conception. We have to improve the nutrition of the mother to improve the nutrition of the child.”

A national nutrition task force representing all the major stakeholders has been established.

“It is a platform where all these actors come together and discuss our challenges and how to address this nutrition-related issue. And we have also the national nutrition strategy and action plan 2022 to 2025,” he said.

These interventions, he said, would help address the huge burden of anemia and stunting in children.

The prevalence of stunting declined between 2010 and 2015 for children under five from over one-third of children to less than one-quarter. It also showed a decline of waste and underweight in children.