South Asia babies suffer as pregnant women remain neglected

May 11, 2018

Children born small due to poor maternal nutrition are more likely to become wasted or stunted in early life, do less well at school, earn lower wages in adulthood and suffer diabetes and chronic heart diseases later in life. Photo: AFP

The slow progress on improving nutritional care of women in South Asia during and after pregnancy is slow, which impacts their babies.

Kathmandu is hosting this week a regional conference on actions to accelerate improvements in women’s nutrition across South Asia. It has been jointly organised by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Over one-third of the world’s anaemic women live in South Asia, and no country is on track to meet the global nutrition target to reduce anaemia by 50% women by 2025, reported Relief Web. One in 10 women are too short (height <145 cm), and in some countries as many as one-fifth are too thin.

Children born small due to poor maternal nutrition are more likely to become wasted or stunted in early life, do less well at school, earn lower wages in adulthood and suffer diabetes and chronic heart diseases later in life. Evidence shows that maternal nutrition is strongly linked to child stunting. It affects 62 million children in the region.

Many adolescents and women also face serious obstacles in meeting their right to health and nutrition. “Gaps in national policies, programmes and care services during pregnancy, combined with poverty and customary practices mean that women fail to receive the nutritional care they need for a healthy pregnancy,” said Jean Gough, Regional Director for UNICEF in South Asia.

A very few pregnant women are receiving essential nutrition services, including dietary counselling and iron-folic acid supplements.

Is it possible to achieve rapid progress in South Asia? Yes. In Nepal, for example, the percentage of women who take iron-folic acid supplements for at least 90 days during pregnancy increased from only 6% in 2001 to 71% in 2016.