The World Bank and UNICEF on September 12 reaffirmed their strong commitment to work with the Government of Vietnam to tackle child undernutrition as the country prepares its Socio-Economic Development Strategy for 2021-30.
Child undernutrition remains a significant development challenge in Vietnam, representing a staggering yet avoidable loss to the nation’s human capital and economic growth potential.
According to Ousmane Dione, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam, the stakes are high – stunting will continue to affect one in every four Vietnamese children, permanently impairing their development and squandering their potential contribution to the economy, unless proper interventions are conducted during a child’s first two years of life. The stakes are even higher for children from ethnic minorities who are disproportionately affected and have fewer resources, he added.
While Vietnam has made remarkable progress in improving overall human capital outcomes, reducing undernutrition is a persistent challenge. According to UNICEF, more than 230,000 children under five years old in Viet Nam suffer from severe acute malnutrition every year, which is a major cause of stunting and death in children under five.
Ensuring the best possible nutrition for children in their first years will absolutely reap benefits for the physical health of children and it will also fuel their brain development and capacity to learn, thus reducing long term health costs and increasing education outcomes, said UNICEF Representative in Vietnam Rana Flowers.
The provision of micronutrients to children and pregnant women is an investment that Governments make in order to achieve a rate of return to their long-term economic growth, she noted, adding that development partners are committed to bringing global expertise and support, and count on the increasing ownership and leadership of the Government of Vietnam to address the nutrition challenges.
A large number of children of ethnic minorities are chronically undernourished. A new World Bank report “Persistent Malnutrition in Ethnic Minority Communities of Vietnam: Issues and Options or Policy and Interventions” found that nearly one in three ethnic minority children are affected by stunting, more than twice as much as the Kinh majority; and 21% of ethnic minority children are underweight, a ratio 2.5 times higher than that of their Kinh peers.
Nutrition interventions are most effective during the first 1,000 days of life from the first day of pregnancy until the child’s second birthday. Under nutrition during this period could lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical and cognitive development.
Stunting is linked to lower economic productivity, including a 10-percent reduction in lifetime earnings. When multiplied across an entire nation, poor nutrition can cost a nation up to 3% of its GDP annually. As such, the World Bank and UNICEF recommend several policy actions including securing adequate and predictable financing for nutrition-related programs, building multi sectorial plans to address the underlying determinants of undernutrition, and scaling up evidence-based interventions.