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Progress in Bangladesh towards health and nutrition of children

IRIN highlights a recent report from Action Against Hunger (ACF International) which looks at the progress made towards reducing malnutrition in Bangladesh.

ACF, a non-governmental organisation which works to end world hunger, hails Bangladesh as one of the global “success stories” when it comes to reducing its rates of child malnutrition over the past 15 years. Government data has shown that the level of underweight children has dropped in Bangladesh from 56 per cent in 1996 to 43 per cent in 2009 and from 18 per cent to 13 per cent for those whose growth is stunted.

Bangladesh has also been praised by the United Nations as one of 16 countries which are on course to achieve their Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for reducing child mortality rates. In its latest MDG Country report, Bangladesh gained recognition for making “significant strides” in child health. For example, its under-five mortality rate was 54 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2008, a stark decrease from a rate of 146 deaths in 1991. Child mortality is expected to drop still further by 2015, to around 48 deaths per 1,000 live births.

But while the UN notes Bangladesh has “recorded impressive feats in pulling people out of poverty” and reducing malnutrition, the country is not expected to meet its MDG target for lowering the number of underweight children. According to data in the Country report, the prevalence of underweight under-fives stood at 45 per cent in 2009, too high for the country to meet its target of 33 per cent by 2015.

ACF acknowledges that despite reductions in malnutrition rates, there are still over 2 million acutely malnourished children in Bangladesh. However, the organisation is optimistic that progress continues to be made. A national poverty reduction strategy is beginning to tie together the actions and objectives of various ministries. And the government has introduced poverty measures, such as food and cash transfers, for families who have been affected by food price hikes or natural disasters. Various climate adaptation programmes are also being tested to help families cope with regular flooding and a new agricultural policy has boosted food production by providing credit for small farmers and encouraging private sector involvement in farming.

Certain aid organisations in Bangladesh, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), are also trialling schemes which focus on education. Rural mothers in particular lack knowledge about nutrition, in a country where over 80 per cent of people’s diet consists of rice. According to MSF, although education cannot solve all the problems, such as in cases where families lack money to buy food, a great deal can be achieved by changing the poor food habits of families. The organisation therefore hopes that education is one key way to further reduce rates of malnourishment in the children of Bangladesh.

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