Fighting malnutrition in Bangladesh with education

new report by Fighting malnutrition in Bangladesh reveals the high prevalence of stunting in children under 5, but also outlines the tremendous opportunities that exist to make it a problem of the past.

Talking to families in their homes about nutritious diets and healthful household behaviours is part of the fight against stunting in Bangladesh.

JAMALPUR, Bangladesh, 16 April 2013 – Monsoon rains lash down in northwest Bangladesh. The rising waters flood fields and rice paddies, turn dirt tracks and paths into muck.

UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on health workers in Bangladesh’s rural villages who are fighting malnutrition by raising awareness about diet, breastfeeding and hygiene. Watch in RealPlayer

Saerni Shirka, clutching a small purple umbrella, braves the storm to go door to door in the rural villages around Jamalpur. A community health worker for more than 20 years, she’s on a mission to educate mothers about how best to feed their children.

High rate of malnutrition

The monsoon floods, while potentially destructive, are a vital part of the country’s rural economy. The waters carry rich silt from their Himalayan sources. When the waters recede, the soil is left fertile. The floodwaters also carry fish downriver and through villages, providing poor fisherfolk a rich source of protein – and income.

But, despite the fertile soil and fish stocks, the children of poor families here aren’t getting the nutrition they need.

Bangladesh has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Forty-one per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from moderate to severe stunting, an indicator of chronic malnutrition. Many of their parents are farmers and fishers. The farmers grow rice almost exclusively, and the fisherfolk sell off everything they catch to buy the rice.

Rice is the traditional staple food here. The nutrition it provides is not enough for growing children.

Teaching the benefits of a diverse diet

“Many families here do have access to vegetables and fish,” says Ms. Shirka. “But the main thing we’ve found is that they don’t know about the benefits of eating vegetables, fish and these sorts of things. They don’t know how the diversity of foods and nutrients will improve a child’s health. So we try to tell them why it’s important, and how it can be done easily.”

Children of poor families in Bangladesh aren’t getting the nutrition they need. Forty-one per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from moderate to severe stunting.

When the rains let up, she convenes a meeting of mothers. They discuss the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, hygiene and including vitamin- and protein-rich ingredients with every meal. All of these behaviours are major factors in reducing malnutrition here.

Ms. Shirka’s rounds are part of a joint initiative by UNICEF and the European Union to educate mothers and pregnant women about the importance of nutrition and a varied diet. The 41 million euro global partnership is aimed at reducing the rate of malnutrition in nine developing countries

More from Flood

PM calls for self-reliant Bangladesh

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her government’s determination to make Bangladesh self-reliant. “Bangladesh will not go out for alms in the form of foreign aid any more… We want to become self-reliant and hold our head high in the … read more

100 die, 250,000 stranded in Bangladesh floods

DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least 100 people have died and 250,000 were left stranded by flash floods and landslides in Bangladesh set off by the heaviest rain in years, police and officials said on Wednesday. The low-lying and densely populated … read more