Page last updated at 17:48 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Nepal malnutrition affecting half of under-fives

By Joanna Jolly
BBC News, Kathmandu

Nepalese woman tends crops
Health experts say extra attention should be given to women's nutrition

Nearly half of Nepal's children under five are suffering from malnutrition, a report by the Nepalese government says.

The study says there has been steady but slow progress in cutting poverty in the past decade but more needs to be done to tackle poor nutrition.

Health experts says extra attention should be given to Nepalese women before and during pregnancy, and in the first two years of an infant's life.

They say without this a child is likely to have permanent intellectual damage.

National health plan

The report says that nearly half of the country's 1.7 million under-fives are stunted or suffer from chronic malnutrition.

In the past few years Nepal has rolled-out programmes to combat deficiencies in micronutrients - giving children vitamin A supplements and encouraging the purchase of iodized salt.

But health experts say that more needs to be done.

The United Nations Children's Fund is supporting the government to deal with the issue.

Their country representative, Gillian Mellsop, says that the Nepalese government is aware of the long-term consequences of poor nutrition.

"When a child is stunted, it means that they're not going to meet their intellectual potential.

"If you have children well-nourished you're going to have the basis of a population that is ready for school, productive members of society and a really developing Nepal, socially and economically."

The Nepalese government plans to use an already established network of 50,000 female health volunteers to combat malnutrition.

It says it plans to make nutrition a key element of its upcoming national health plan.

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