Under-nutrition is both a consequence and a cause of poverty. Childhood under-nutrition makes learning more difficult and ill health more likely, which hinders a child’s capacity to secure a job as an adult, and the cycle of generational poverty and under-nutrition continues.
“Proper nutrition is a powerful tool, it helps give every child the best start in life” says Dr. Isyie Ndombi UNICEF Pacific Representative. “Malnutrition deprives a child’s body and mind of the nutrients needed for growth and development, and it translates into negative consequences in terms of strength and capacity for countries”.
In response to this, the Vanuatu Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF launched the Multiple Indicator Cluster – Nutrition Survey at the Vanuatu National Food Summit last month to assess the nutritional status of women and children and promote actions for a healthier and more productive Vanuatu. Dr. Ndombi said “under-nutrition causes poverty but an end to under-nutrition is possible.” He added that “today, we have a much better understanding of the strategies and approaches to improve nutrition, based on sound evidence. Recent attention and action have made valuable interventions like vitamin A supplementation and iodization of salt almost universal.”
“The good news is improving child nutrition is entirely possible if we make it happen. Pacific Island Countries need to follow the Government of Vanuatu who are the first in the Pacific to undertake this survey and determine how they can improve the nutritional status of particularly children and women,” he said.
Ms. Seini Kurusiga, UNICEF Pacific Nutrition Specialist said “under-nutrition is not only about the lack of decent food but also the lack of care and health. Illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia, are often made worse by intestinal parasites, which contribute to under-nutrition.”
Maternal nutrition and health also greatly influence a child’s nutritional status. In order to help reduce child disease and death key health interventions are needed which include immunization, improved hygiene and sanitation, hand washing with soap, access to clean drinking water, and the use of oral re-hydration salts to reduce diarrhoea.
Under-nutrition diminishes a child’s ability to learn and then earn, locking them into a generational cycle of poverty. When a child is deprived of iron and iodine, they become slow, tired and less able to learn or perform well in school. Children do not have a proper nutritional diet are more prone to suffer from serious infections and die from common childhood illness such as diarrhoea, measles and pneumonia. Survivors are often less able to perform well in the workforce as adults, and so their economic prospects are diminished. When they have children of their own, these children are more likely to suffer under-nutrition than the children of healthier parents, and so the cycle of poverty continues.
Dr. Ndombi said child nutritional status is the mirror of the overall health and welfare status of a community. “This is more than a human rights imperative; it is also a sound economic decision and one of the surest ways for a country to set its course towards a better future” said Dr. Ndombi. He emphasized that “by providing us with better knowledge and understanding of the strategies and approaches to improve nutrition, such a survey proves that reducing and eradicating child under-nutrition and malnutrition is entirely feasible.”