France, Unicef and WFP join hands to improve child health and nutrition in Lao PDR
BOUNNEUA, LAO PDR – The Ministry of Health, provincial authorities, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF have today launched a project supported by the Republic of France, focusing on improving the nutrition status of children under five in Lao PDR’s northernmost province of Phongsaly.
An investment of EUR 500,000 (approx. US$ 520,000) from the French Alimentary Aid Programme will contribute to the prevention and treatment of wasting, a form of malnutrition where children fail to maintain an adequate weight for their height, compromising their health and development and significantly endangering their lives. The Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition in Lao project will be implemented in Phongsaly Province, an area with persistently high malnutrition rates, particularly in children under five years. Drawing on a global partnership between UNICEF and WFP, together with the Government of Lao PDR, the project aims to promote positive infant and young child feeding practices, enhance maternal nutrition knowledge, and improve the detection and treatment of children impacted by wasting. Collectively this is expected to strengthen the outcomes of the Government of Lao PDR’s national Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition programme.
In Phongsaly, the prevalence of malnutrition in children under five years remains one of the highest among all Lao provinces. Less than half of all infants are exclusively breastfed during their first 6 months, and only 28 percent of children under five consume diets that meet the WHO minimum acceptable criteria. Poor maternal nutrition, a high level of adolescent pregnancies, challenging water and hygiene conditions and limited access to health services, as well as food insecurity, due to the impacts of climate change and COVID-19 among other issues, further exacerbate the situation. The project will raise awareness among 23,000 community members on acute malnutrition, while 5,000 children under five will be screened to identify their nutritional status and 500 acutely malnourished children will receive treatment services and therapeutic foods across six districts of Phongsaly Province.
“France is supporting the Lao Government in its efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture. By drawing on the technical expertise and extensive field presence of the WFP and UNICEF, as well as the French Research Institute for Development (IRD), who is a partner in this project, we will be better positioned to improve the nutritional outcomes for children in Phongsaly, especially in the light of impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said H.E. Siv-Leng Chhuor, French Ambassador to Lao PDR.
This newly launched project builds on previous interventions supported by UNICEF and WFP in Phongsaly as well as national level efforts. UNICEF and WFP have maintained a long-standing partnership on the prevention and treatment of wasting, united by their mutual agreement that the issue of child wasting can and must be prevented. This partnership, which was recently renewed in late 2020, is codified in the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting, which serves as a basis for country frameworks and details how prevention and treatment of wasting will be managed.
"The Ministry of Health welcomes this new partnership. Wasted children have a higher risk of dying – up to 12 times higher – than healthy children and hence it’s imperative that we reach them with such lifesaving treatment,” Dr. Phonepaseuth Ounaphom, Director General of the Ministry of Health’s Department of Hygiene and Health Promotion said. “The holistic approach of prevention and treatment in this project is fully aligned with Lao PDR’s National Plan of Action for Nutrition 2021-2025 and will enable our health care workers to detect and treat malnourished children before it is too late, which draws on our ongoing efforts to build an integrated system of management of acute malnutrition.”