New Delhi: UNICEF today sought concerted efforts for the eradication of child stunting in the South Asian region, saying greater investment in key areas like child feeding was key to addressing the issue.
"For many children who live in this part of the world, stunting starts before birth because their mothers are undernourished and/or too young to be pregnant and give birth," Deputy Executive Director (Programmes) for UNICEF, Geeta Rao Gupta, said.
Gupta was addressing a 'Stop Stunting Conference' here with Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Meera Shekar, Health and Nutrition Specialist, Africa region for the World Bank, and Professor Subu Subramanian, Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
"For an even greater number of children, the nutrition status deteriorates progressively through the first two years of life due to the poor quality of their diets. In environments where open defecation is widespread, nutrition interventions alone may not be able to normalise child growth," Gupta said.
She said the main factors holding back the eradication of child stunting in the region are lack of nutrition in mother during pregnancy, early age pregnancy, women not being given equal status, women not being the decision makers, too many pregnancies for a woman and sanitation issues.
"South Asia is at the epicentre of the global stunting crisis with over 63 million children under-five being stunted. One third of women here are underweight, anaemic or both.
"Two-thirds of young children are fed diets that do not meet the minimum requirements for healthy growth and development, and 40 per cent of households practice open defecation. We need to take action now in order to stop it," said Hulshof.
Shekhar said that more resources are required in order to improve nutrition and other aspects. We need to also focus on how to maximise the results from the resources that we manage to get, she said.
Stunted growth or stunting is a reduced growth rate in human development. It is a primary manifestation of malnutrition and disease.
Stunted children may never regain the height lost as a result of stunting, and most children will never gain the corresponding body weight. It may also lead to premature death later in life because vital organs never fully develop during childhood.
Subramanian said that a multi-sectoral approach is needed to improve sanitation and nutrition in this region. He also stressed that the root cause of the issue needs to be looked at while addressing the factors responsible for the same.