Thursday, December 20, 2012

Micronutrient powder reducing malnutrition & improving learning

Micronutrient powder has made a difference for her 18-month-old granddaughter
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Maggie Lamb
Like many other grandmothers in Tuol Khbor village, Vai Lee looks after her granddaughter, Chin Sereynit, each day while the girl’s parents work outside the village. Vai Lee observed that the 18-month-old has become “more active, more curious, and her weight is increasing” since she began sprinkling Sereynit’s daily lunch with micronutrient powder.

In this village, 12 miles from the main road in Kampong Speu province and surrounded by rice fields, 25 children are taking part in a Ministry of Health programme supported by UNICEF - started in December 2011 - to improve childhood nutrition and reduce anaemia and micronutrient deficiencies in children aged 6-24 months using packets of flavoured micronutrient powder sprinkled onto a child’s food once a day.

A daily packet of powder makes a difference

Each packet contains iron and other essential vitamins and minerals, including iodine, zinc, vitamin A and folic acid. A daily packet of micronutrient powder allows caregivers to increase the micronutrient content in an infant's diet without having to change their eating habits or worry about measuring doses.

Sum Sareoum, who has given her daughter micronutrient powder every day since she was 11 months old, has also noticed the difference it makes, “I’m happy with the powder because my daughter is not sick as often as she used to be and she is eating more rice now”.

Thanks to support from the Spanish Government through the MDG Joint Programme for Children, Food Security and Nutrition, UNICEF supplies the single-serving packets of micronutrient powder to the local health centre, which provides them free of charge for every 6-24 month old child in the village.

With one-third of all child deaths directly linked to malnutrition, micronutrient supplementation is one way to help to reduce child mortality. Micronutrients are only needed in very small amounts but they are critical for physical growth and intellectual development. Lack of micronutrients in the first two years of life can have a severe and lasting impact. Without them, children are less active early in life, learn less in school, and will earn less as adults.

Micronutrients decrease iron deficiency anaemia

In combination with nutrition education, the addition of micronutrients has been found to significantly decrease iron deficiency anaemia which is something that affects almost all children in Cambodia. At one year of age nearly 9 of every 10 Cambodian children are anaemic and more than half of all children under five in Cambodia are anaemic, much of this due to iron deficiency.

UNICEF is working with the Royal Government of Cambodia to ensure that future generations do not suffer the consequences of untreated childhood malnutrition. Kampong Speu is the second province after Svay Rieng where UNICEF is distributing micronutrient made distribution available through Health Centres and Village Health Support Groups.

In Tuol Khbor village, Prak Buntheoun is a volunteer member of the Village Health Support Group which helps to connect communities to the health system. He visits each family every month to distribute micronutrient packets and to monitor the children’s progress. “I have worked with the mothers and grandmothers to teach them about nutrition and to make sure they understand the importance of the micronutrient powder and that they are using them correctly,” says Buntheoun.

Every month in Kampong Speu and Svary Rieng provinces, more than 25,000 children like Sereynit are receiving micronutrient powder with UNICEF support. As a result, their parents have seen their children become more active, less susceptible to illness and infections, and more ready to learn and do well in school. With a few sprinkles, these parents are improving the future outlook for Cambodia’s children.

By Maggie Lamb

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