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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Laos Struggling to Battle Malnutrition

This Week

Children are the future of the nation and our country cannot move forwards to prosperity without capable human resources.

A nation’s people can thrive only if they enjoy good nutrition and a healthy diet. And only a healthy and well-nourished population can drive the development process.

Good nutrition is a crucial element in human resource development, particularly for children under five years of age.

Laos has had a long fight against malnutrition, but the problem remains unresolved. Although the country’s economy has grown continuously over past decades, malnutrition rates are still high.

Nearly every second child under the age of 5 (meaning 50 percent) is chronically malnourished and a fifth (20 percent) of the children living in rural areas are severely stunted. These rates are even higher in remote areas and among some ethnic groups.

The root cause of the problem is largely linked to poverty and understanding on the part of local people regarding nutrition.

Many villagers still don’t understand what good nutrition is and how important it is, and rely too much on rice as a food source. It is critical that the relevant sectors ensure that people diversify their crops so they have more types of food to eat.

It’s also critical to empower women, given that if women know more about nutrition they can do a lot more to help their families.

But no one can end malnutrition alone and we require the cooperation and contributions of many stakeholders to tackle the problem.

Last week, the European Union Delegation and World Food Programme hosted a Business Leaders Networking Cocktail  the first move to establish the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network at the country level in Laos.

Under this initiative, the business community is committed to playing a larger role in supporting Laos’ fight against malnutrition, creating new hope that Laos may be able to end this chronic problem.

Addressing the SUN Business Network event last week, EU Ambassador Leo Faber highlighted the significance of the business community in taking part in efforts to address malnutrition in Laos.

More and more businesses are recognising that food and nutrition security is linked to business growth, performance and sustainability. Identifying ways to align the core commercial priorities and investments of a wide spectrum of businesses across many different sectors with national nutrition goals is increasingly important, Mr. Faber said.

A Laos-based SUN Business Network could potentially include a wide range of private sector businesses covering multiple stakeholders ranging from manufacturing, tourism and hotels, banking, mining, and other sectors.

The main purpose of this Senior Business Leaders Network is to have an informal exchange with senior business leaders on how Laos-based companies could do things differently in more actively joining the government’s efforts to fight malnutrition based on each partner’s added values and business interests, he added.

Country Director and Representative of the World Food Programme , Ms Sarah Gordon-Gibson, said Today we are all together; the government, development partners and the private sector, in what, I hope, will be the beginning of a fruitful partnership to support the government’s efforts in addressing malnutrition and implementing the National Nutrition Strategy.

She explained that the SUN Business Network, comprising nearly 200 companies, is a global network and supports the development of sustainable and innovative business models to address malnutrition. To date, 12 countries have established national SUN Business Networks, and hopefully Laos will be the 13th country to join this very important initiative.

The existing salt iodisation programme is a good example of effective public-private collaboration, and shows the willingness of businesses to support the development agenda.

In addition to fortification, there are many opportunities for the private sector to engage in nutrition education, nutrition research, behaviour change communication, marketing and advertising, food safety, mobile communications, information technology, and so on.

Healthy children grow up to be healthy and productive adults. Leaving no one behind in the fight against malnutrition in all its forms should be a priority for all of us: the government, development partners and the private sector, and our presence today is a good testimony of our commitment, Ms Gordon-Gibson said.

No one can end malnutrition alone; we need your time, expertise and capabilities. To achieve this ambitious goal we must all work together and collaborate more than ever before. It is our hope that, as a business community, you will commit to scaling up nutrition to support Laos’ fight against malnutrition.

Deputy Minister of Health and Chair of the National Nutrition Committee Secretariat, Associate Prof. Dr Phouthone Moungpak, said the government has put MDG goal 1 and SDG goal 2 among the top priorities of its 8th five-year national socio-economic development plan.

This has been translated into national and sub-national agendas. Implementation of the nutrition strategy 2025 and the national nutrition plan of action for 2016-2020 is crucial in responding to this national priority.

Laos has a strong political commitment to nutrition and appreciates the good contribution and support of donors, the United Nations, civil society and substantial support from the private sector in nutrition, such as the Nam Theun 2 power company, the Xepon mineral and mining group (MMG), Lao iodised salt producer groups and others, Associate Prof. Dr Phouthone said.

Our country needs more business network engagement and partnership in nutrition. We are look forward to working with many stakeholders, including donors such as the United Nations, the business or private sector, and other groups to support and work hand in hand with us in fighting against malnutrition.


Source: Vientiane Times

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