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Scaling up nutrition investments leads to fewer child deaths and improves economy

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BISHKEK (UNICEF) – Despite improvements in the past decade, 22% of all deaths among children under-five in the Kyrgyz Republic are still caused by undernutrition, according to a report launched today.

Improving Economic Outcomes by Expanding Nutrition Programming in the Kyrgyz Republic

Besides the loss of lives, the burden of undernutrition in the Kyrgyz Republic is also substantial in economic terms: estimated to be US$32 million annually.

Scaling up nutrition interventions, therefore, is crucial to prevent loss of children’s lives and is a strategic economic investment with high returns, according to the Situational Analysis – Improving Economic Outcomes by Expanding Nutrition Programming in the Kyrgyz Republic. The report was released at a meeting jointly organized by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the World Bank.

“Undernutrition is a critical public health challenge, although it remains a hidden problem,” said Sabyrbek Djumabekov, Minister of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic. “The Government has already taken steps to reduce its direct causes. However, it is obvious that we need to initiate multi-sectoral programmes and from this perspective we are looking forward the recommendations made by this important report.”

“We have the chance to greatly reduce the number of children who suffer from stunting – and we must do so. These children learn less, and they will earn less – deepening the cycle of poverty,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Investing in good nutrition is the smart, cost effective thing to do, helping to save more children’s lives and accelerate progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals with equity,” he added.

In Kyrgyzstan, three-quarters of the country’s salt is iodized and ten percent of wheat is fortified. But further effort is needed:

  • Iodising all salt sold will reduce iodine deficiency resulting in a US$500,000 annual benefit due to increased worker productivity.
  • Fortifying all of the country’s flour with iron, folic acid, and other B vitamins will improve the quality of the diet. The government’s efforts to fortify wheat flour as a public health intervention needs to be further supported.

“At least US$6.2 million of the country’s economic losses from undernutrition can be prevented by scaling up existing nutrition programs in the Kyrgyz Republic,” said Tamer Rabie, a World Bank Senior Health Specialist. “Development partners need to capitalize on the successes achieved by the Government and assist it in its scaling up of programs such as salt iodization and flour fortification,” he added.

Good nutritional practices includes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, timely introduction of adequate complementary feeding, increasing vitamin and mineral intake, as well as addressing severe acute malnutrition in children.

The international development community has recognized the need to scale up nutrition interventions; the potential for public-private partnerships, and there is consensus around a common framework for action.

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