International Organizations Join Forces to Support Laos’ Fight Against Malnutrition

School meal program in southern Laos. (Photo/WFP Laos, Vilakhone Sipaseut)

In the face of persistent challenges, Laos grapples with high rates of malnutrition, hindering the nation’s development, according to the latest findings from the Lao Social Indicator Survey. The Southeast Asian nation is witnessing some of the highest malnutrition rates in the region.

The survey highlighted issues in coordination among nutrition centers and other departments, particularly at the local level in Phongsaly, Houaphanh, Bokeo and Saravane provinces.

During a meeting, held at the end of October in Luang Prabang, Deputy Minister of Health Snong Thongsna, with key national and international stakeholders, focused the discussions on improving the nutrition monitoring system and creating a high-quality nutrition database to support national policies. The minister also acknowledged the persistent challenge to effectively implement the annual nutrition budget within the health sector after reports of inflated success in the four key provinces have raised public concerns.

A report from the Ministry of Health in 2022 unveiled alarming statistics. Chronic undernutrition, or stunting, remains a significant problem, with approximately 33 percent of children under five affected. The document also highlighted that 21 percent of Lao children experience underweight conditions, and 9 percent face wasting. The report also underscored that undernutrition disproportionately impacts economically disadvantaged communities, minority ethnic groups, as well as rural and upland regions.

Despite the ongoing challenges, Snong emphasized the government’s success in the mandatory salt-iodization program to prevent iodine deficiency disorders. The strategy involves fortifying staple foods like rice, oil, noodles, soy sauce, and dairy products. This initiative is one of the key priorities outlined in the National Nutrition Strategy to 2025 and Plan of Action for 2016-2020.

In another bid to address the issue, Laos has garnered support from international organizations. The European Union (EU), UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO) have joined forces to strengthen the National Nutrition Information System (SNNIS), a project organized in 2020 in collaboration with the governments of Ethiopia, Congo, Laos, Uganda and Zambia to enhance the countries’ capacity to regularly collect nutrition data and enable better-quality services.

Collaborative efforts and international support remains crucial in charting an accurate map of the current malnutrition rates across the country.