VIENTIANE – Today, the Lao PDR Ministry of Health, jointly with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), launched the country’s first Fill the Nutrient Gap report. The report confirmed that despite significant progress, Lao PDR has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in South East Asia, with more than one third of children under five (35.6 percent) suffering from stunting or chronic malnutrition.
The Fill the Nutrient Gap report contains an analysis of the nutrition situation in Lao PDR, compares the potential impact of interventions, and identifies programme and policy entry points to ensure consumption of an adequately nutritious diet.
“This report supports the implementation of the National Nutrition Strategy, Plan of Action to reduce the levels of chronic malnutrition to 25% by 2025,” said the Minister of Health, Associate Prof. Dr. Syhavong Bounkong, “good nutrition in the first 1000 days of life is vital to meet these goals”.
The first 1,000 days refers to the ‘window of opportunity’ from a child’s conception through to her second birthday. Inadequate nutrition during this time can irreversibly hamper cognitive and physical development.
Key findings show that while nutritious food is available across the country, many people cannot afford it. In fact, the cost of a nutritious diet varies significantly across the country, and the report shows that when people can’t afford a basic staple diet, stunting rates are higher. Furthermore, it is more expensive to give adolescent girls and pregnant and breastfeeding women an adequate diet, because they need specific, more nutritious food.
“While great progress has been made over recent years in Lao PDR to decrease levels of chronic malnutrition, the report highlights the challenges on the road ahead. The recommendations made in the report will assist the country to work towards the elimination of all forms of malnutrition and meet the Sustainable Development Goal targets,” said Sarah Gordon-Gibson, WFP Country Director and Representative.
The report provides a detailed review of nutrition, dietary intake, food security, household food expenditure, and socio-economic status of the population. It will facilitate future decision-making by the government and all partners to improve the quality and access to nutritious food, especially during the critical period of the initial 1,000 days of life.
The key recommendations include focusing on both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions targeting the initial 1000 days of life. The report also suggests developing strategies to improve nutrient intake of adolescent girls; explore food fortification options; and engage in social behavior change communication. Improved diet diversity and quality of food would result in greater nutritional benefits; however, is only possible through maintaining a high level of political and financial commitment. A technical working group will continue translating the recommendations of this analysis to the appropriate policy and programmatic interventions.
The Fill the Nutrient Gap process included: market data collection in the five provinces of Oudomxay, Phongsaly, Savanakhet, Sekong and Vientiane capital; secondary data analysis; and stakeholder consultations for formulating recommendations.
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