EU, UNICEF support child nutrition during lockdown

A mother in Kalikot District measures arm of her child using a MUAC tape after receiving a short orientation on family MUAC NT

The European Union and UNICEF are collaborating to prevent malnutrition in Nepali children due to the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis and have contributed €250,000 to monitor child health.

COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown in its fourth month has pushed thousands of Nepali families into deeper poverty, leading to increased malnourishment among children. Moreover, with Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) unable to make regular visits during the lockdown, families’ access to health services has been reduced further.

After taking great strides in reducing malnutrition that saw stunting decline from 57% in 1990s to 36%, figures for stunting, wasting and anaemia in Nepal have plateaued in the last decade.

Even before the lockdown, one in three children in Nepal were still malnourished. According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, wasting (low weight for age) among Nepali children under 5 still hovers at 10% — a mere 1% decrease from 8 years ago.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals require Nepal to reduce wasting to less than 5% by 2030. Stunting needs to be well below 15% in 10 years to meet the global target, it is about 36% now.

"Across Nepal, the COVID 19 crisis is putting children’s lives and their futures in jeopardy. Progress made on children's nutrition  in the last decade is at risk of being reversed as rising numbers of  children are facing malnutrition due to loss of household income and resulting food insecurity", said Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative to Nepal. "The social and economic loss for Nepal resulting from the deterioration in children’s nutrition status will be felt long after the COVID 19 crisis is over."

The €250,000 will support the 'Family MUAC' intervention under which MUAC (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference) tapes will distributed to 308 local governments across 30 districts in Nepal. The tapes enable parents and caregivers to monitor the health of their children themselves.

The existing Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan volunteer in all local governments will facilitate the intervention and the partnership will also provide essential supplies such as ready-to-use therapeutic food.

'Family MUAC' allows for the early detection and referral of children with acute malnutrition to the nearest health centre and subsequently to nutrition rehabilitation centres, all the while reducing the exposure of FCHVs and the community to the virus.

“During the last 10 years, the EU has supported Nepal to combat malnutrition, with tangible results. However, the COVID-19 crisis is making this battle more difficult.” said Veronica Cody, EU Ambassador to Nepal. "Through increasing its financial support, the EU wants to send a strong signal to Nepal: the EU is and will be by your side to leave malnutrition behind."

Since 2016, the European Union and UNICEF have been supporting Nepal to scale up its Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan across the 30 districts that have a high prevalence of maternal and child malnutrition. The key nutrition-specific interventions have included treating malnourished children, protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding and providing Vitamin-A and other micronutrients.

The nutrition-sensitive interventions have included promoting hand washing, management of kitchen gardens, and ending early marriage, as well as supporting the related policies. This latest contribution will be shortly followed by a renewed EU support of €23.35 million, which will reinforce the implementation of the nutrition plan until the end of 2022.

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