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Ethnic minority children in Viet Nam are disproportionately undernourished

  |   SUN Country Network, SUN Donor Network

Undernutrition is particularly widespread among ethnic minority children in Viet Nam, with stunting rates among the highest in the world, according to a new report launched today by the World Bank and Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition.

Persistent Malnutrition in Ethnic Minority Communities of Viet Nam: Issues and Options or Policy and Interventions” finds that 1 in 3 children of ethnic minorities in Viet Nam suffer from stunting, while 1 in 5 are underweight. To address this, the report calls for a tailored and innovative approach that takes into account the unique geographical and cultural challenges facing this group.

Despite Viet Nam’s impressive progress in reducing the overall rate of undernutrition over the past two decades, ethnic minority children still lag behind, and the disparity is widening,” said Ousmane Dione, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “The next phase of efforts on undernutrition should be more targeted, concentrating on the provinces with the highest burdens, to create a breakthrough.”

Because the window of opportunity for adequate nutrition for optimal health and physical and cognitive development is short, spanning the first 1,000 days of life, any undernutrition occurring during this period can lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical growth and brain development. The report stresses that interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child bearing age.

The report notes that among ethnic minorities, only 39 percent of children aged 6-23 months received a nutritionally adequate diet. Meanwhile, just 32.7 percent of mothers aged 15-49 made prenatal care visits whereby they were provided with essential vitamins and minerals, and nutrition counseling.

The report stresses that cultural norms play a significant role. Early marriage and adolescent pregnancy are still common among ethnic minority women, with 23.9 percent starting child-bearing between the age of 15 and 19. Equally important is the reluctance of many members of communities to participate in preventive and curative health services.

Ultimately, child undernutrition is rooted in poverty. Ethnic minority groups in Viet Nam, which made up 14 percent of the country’s population but accounted for 73 percent of the poor in 2016.

The report proposes key steps that Viet Nam can take to improve nutritional outcomes for ethnic minority children:

Build a strong and more coordinated partnership for nutrition with high-level government leadership and a well-functioning coordination among stakeholders.

Secure adequate financing for nutrition. Adequate funding should be allocated to programs with the greatest evidence of effectiveness. Provinces with the highest burdens of malnutrition should have access to fast-track or direct funding schemes.

Implement at scale well-proven direct nutrition interventions. Identify and scale up the delivery of a comprehensive package of high-impact, household-level interventions during the first 1,000 days from pregnancy to infancy, coupled with culturally sensitive social behavioral change and communication activities.

Address the underlying determinants of undernutrition through multisectoral approaches. Formally recognize tackling undernutrition as a priority in the National Target Program. Expand access to package of adolescent, maternal, and child health services. Increase the access of ethnic minorities populations to improved water, sanitation, and hygiene. Encourage and incentivize girl students to enroll in and complete upper secondary schools. Expand the cash transfer program to effectively target and reach the poorest ethnic minority families with pregnant women, infants, and young children during the critical 1,000-day window of opportunity.

More information

• Persistent Malnutrition in Ethnic Minority Communities of Vietnam – Report (English)

• Persistent Malnutrition in Ethnic Minority Communities of Vietnam – World Bank press release

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