Despite periods of political and economic instability, Nepal achieved dramatic progress in maternal and child health in the early 2000s becoming an international model.
It took great strides in reducing childhood malnutrition, in particular, reducing stunting from 57% in 1996 to 33% in 2016. Maternal and Infant mortality rates also similarly declined, only for much of these successes to stall in the recent years. And this trend has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, states a new UNICEF report.
Titled “Nutrition in Nepal: Three decades of progress for children and women”, the report brings together a set of nine original articles that examine the drivers of success and identify where greater policy and programmatic action is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) nutrition targets.
“Optimal maternal and child nutrition is the basis for developing a resilient society,” says EU Ambassador to Nepal, H.E. Nona Deprez. “The decline in the number of malnourished children, improvements in health facilities and services, and the multisectoral approach used in Nepal over the past three decades are a testament to the Government of Nepal’s commitment to reducing all forms of malnutrition.”
A special supplement of the Maternal and Child Nutrition Journal published on Thursday lists some of Nepal’s biggest nutritional achievements. Between 1996-2016, the early initiation of breastfeeding saw an increase from 18% to 56%, and complementary feeding increased from 54% to 77%.
During the same period, women taking sufficient iron and folic acid supplements during their pregnancy rose from 6% to 71%. This was combined with earlier and more frequent antenatal care visits.
Consistent administering of Vitamin A has saved the lives of an estimated 45,000 Nepali children under the age of five, between 2002 and 2015. Similarly, households using adequately iodised salt doubled from 35% to 77% from 1998 to 2016.
Much of this progress can be credited to improvements in household wealth, parental education, and sanitation. But equally important was increased coverage of health and nutrition services undertaken by successive governments.
Nepal Government utilised ground-breaking research to test interventions and overcome challenges, it is also committed to enforcing mandatory legislation such as salt iodisation, writes the journal supplement.