Laos continues to face a significant development challenge to reduce the high levels of malnutrition that prevail across the country.
Chronic malnutrition remains a big problem in Laos and the malnutrition rates of children under the age of five are among the highest in the South East Asian region, with over 40 percent of Lao children being chronically undernourished or stunted.
This was the essence of a keynote speech delivered by Deputy Minister of Health Associate Prof. Dr Phouthone Meuangpak on Friday at a dissemination workshop on the National Nutrition Strategic Plan 2025 and Plan of Action for 2016-2020 and the preliminary findings of a food and nutrition security survey.
Some 100 participants from the line ministries concerned and provincial health departments took part in the meeting.
Dr Phouthone said the government is committed to improving health and nutrition, particularly for women and children. “Recently, we approved the new National Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan. They aim to end hunger and improve nutrition and sustainable agriculture.”
“Our work takes into account recent mapping exercises on nutrition and is linked to the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan. We will work to address the root causes of under-nutrition.”
The latest Lao Social Indicator Survey states that nearly 2 million Lao citizens, mainly women and children, suffer some form of under-nutrition. Stunting is at 44 percent, and affects around 385,000 children under the age of five.
According to a 2013 report by the Ministry of Planning and Investment and UNICEF, malnutrition has a huge economic cost for the country. Iron deficiency anaemia and stunting in young children alone brings a loss of US$99 million per year, and the country loses up to US$197 million annually.
The New National Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan aims to mainstream nutrition into overall national development, and will work across three sectors: agriculture, education and health, and water and sanitation.
Targets include bringing down infant mortality from 68 deaths per 1,000 in 2012 to 20 per 1,000 in 2025 and bringing down the maternal mortality rate from 220 deaths per 100,000 in 2012 to 100 deaths from every 100,000 by 2025.
Laos signed up to the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, agreeing to expand efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. One of the measureable indicators under this goal was to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Almost 62 percent of the world's undernourished people live in Asia and the Pacific, according to the report.