by Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla :: Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal and child malnutrition. An estimated six million children are chronically undernourished. Many pregnant women are underweight, anaemic, and consume a nutrient-poor diet.
Three days. 14 sub-districts visited. Over 2,000 women reached by BRAC.
“Nutrition must be considered if we think of food”- this was the theme of Bangladesh’s National Nutrition Week, aimed at improving maternal and child health.
Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal and child malnutrition. An estimated six million children are chronically undernourished. Many pregnant women are underweight, anaemic, and consume a nutrient-poor diet.
The solution: Starting with adolescent girls.
Malnourished adolescent girls are much more likely to be malnourished during pregnancy. In turn, they will give birth to underweight babies, who will likely remain malnourished throughout their lives.
In light of National Nutrition Week, BRAC intensified its nutrition campaign, which provided education and counselling programmes to adolescent girls, pregnant women, and mothers of young children.
Large numbers of adolescent girls suffer from malnutrition in both urban and rural areas. At least half of these girls are classified as underweight, while 36% have stunted growth. Without adequate nutrition, learning abilities are significantly stunted. At schools across the 14 participating districts, young women were taught why good nutrition matters, and what it entails. Of particular importance is the need to eat iron rich food, and take an iron supplement to prevent anaemia.
A diverse diet is not only more exciting for the palate, but is also vital for health. In Bangladesh, micronutrient malnutrition is partly caused by rice and vegetable based diets that lack diversity. BRAC’s maternal nutrition project developed a daily meal plan with a recommended dietary allowance of 2,500 kcal for pregnant women. Our community health workers also provide nutrition counselling, advising pregnant women about which food to eat, and in what quantity.
Mothers of infants
The best nutrition for a baby is their mother’s milk. BRAC’s community health workers stress the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, provide educational materials, teach mothers how to identify infant milestones, and give them sachets of micronutrient powder to sprinkle over food.
National Nutrition Week is over, but the mission to improve nutrition continues.
*Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla is a communications manager of BRAC’s health, nutrition and population programme.