PANO – A conference to review the results of the $3.5 million integrated programme on food security and nutrition for children and high-risk groups opened on July 4th in Hanoi.
This joint program between the Vietnamese Government and the United Nations is an initiative to combine agriculture, health and nutrition for the first time to help Vietnam reduce malnutrition and accelerate progress towards two crucial Millennium Development Goals on hunger and child mortality by 2015.
At present, although the rate of malnutrition has been declining, one third of Vietnamese children still fail to reach the standard height. Over the past three years, the Joint Programme has helped increase breastfeeding rates in six targeted provinces, and organized activities in rural areas to help local farmers increase the availability of safe, good quality food. Reports from baby-friendly hospitals showed that the number of breastfeeding mothers increased from 70.5 to 97 per cent.
Advocacy nationwide has resulted in the extension of paid maternity leave from 4 to 6 months as from January 2013. To further protect the breastfeeding rights of mothers and children, a ban on marketing of breastmilk substitutes and related products for children under 24 months was finally included in the 2012 Law on Advertisement, and came into effect from January 2013.
The United Nations also helped introduce international best practices for food security and nutrition in humanitarian situations. As a result, in the future Vietnam will be much better prepared to respond to the impact of typhoons, floods, drought and other natural disasters. A Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture has been established to protect the high risk communities by generating early warnings of impending food insecurity in provinces and districts.
In Vietnam, malnutrition is the most critical problem in remote mountainous areas, and there also exist differences in food security between urban and rural areas, and between people of different ethnic groups. To ensure better availability of food at local levels, the National Nutrition Surveillance System has been significantly improved, with global indicators and data now being disaggregated by geographical location, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status to prioritise areas that need assistance the most. More effective hospital and community-based treatment for children with severe acute malnutrition using locally produced therapeutic food have also been successfully introduced.
“The Joint Programme is unique in the way that it has brought together the specific expertise of three UN Agencies, along with the Ministries of Health and Agriculture. With united action, we can address food security, health and nutrition in a much more holistic, sustainable way,” UN Resident Coordinator, Pratibha Mehta, stated at the conference today.
Dr. Nguyen Thanh Long, Vice Minister of Health said the Joint Programme is now drawing to a close, and Vietnam has entered a new chapter where health, nutrition and agriculture would work more closely together for better results. In this way the Joint Programme has created a much better health and well-being for Vietnamese women and children.
Funded by the Government of Spain through the MDG Achievement Fund, the Joint Programme has also helped guide the way forward, contributing to the development of the 2012-2020 National Nutrition Strategy, the implementation of the National Food Security Strategy and the National 5 year Plan of Action on Nutrition and Infant and Young Children Feeding and individual Provincial Action Plans.