Health Ministry Mandated to Identify Malnourished Children

Health Ministry Mandated to Identify Malnourished ChildrenHealth Ministry Mandated to Identify Malnourished Children

N early 400,000 Iranian children under the age of six suffer from malnutrition and a quarter of all kids are in this age group.

Health experts, particularly in rural and deprived areas, warn that a significant number of children do not grow physically and mentally in proportion to their age due to malnutrition.

Earlier, the United Nations had put Iran among the countries with a high prevalence rate of malnutrition among children under the age of six, Tabnak News Agency reported.

In recent years, however, a scheme to eliminate malnourishment was launched across the country, but it covers only 85,000 children; later UN reports suggested an improvement after the scheme took off. At present, Iran is among countries with moderate prevalence of malnutrition.

Prevalence of malnutrition in children is related to socioeconomic variables.

Under the project to tackle malnutrition, experts and doctors of the Health Ministry are mandated to identify malnourished children and refer them to the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee.

After verifying the financial status of their parents, the committee issues a bank card to help them buy nutritious food in specified stores near their residences.

Till last year (ended March 20), the monthly payment was $18 but this year it is set to increase to $20. In addition to a bank card, parents are given the necessary training to monitor the growth of children in health centers.

Measures such as increasing parents’ education - especially mothers’ knowledge - constancy of breast feeding until a child is two years old, and promoting nutrition status of children under 6 years are part of the agenda.

Unfortunately, with only a quarter of the children covered under the plan, the remaining kids are at a risk of stunted growth in their critical years.

 Provincial Scenario

Malnutrition reduction in urban areas has seen remarkable improvement but the same progress has not been seen in the rural areas.

Although adequate vitamin A consumption is the norm and 99% of households consume iodized salt, that provides the iodine necessary for proper brain development in children, there is still much room for improvement.

The problem is lingering, particularly “provincial malnutrition.”

Hormuzgan Province has a rate of underweight children triple that of the country’s average rate. In Sistan-Baluchestan, 21% of children face the risk of not growing to their full height potential because of malnutrition.

Certain population groups, such as the large Afghan refugee population, are struggling with food insecurity and higher levels of malnutrition. Wasting among Afghan refugee children was found to be 12.7%, higher than the urban average. The diet diversity of refugee families is poor, too; around 15% of households go without fruits and vegetables for spans longer than a month, reports The Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization that addresses poverty and hunger.

Another population group, the elderly, was also found to have higher levels of malnutrition than the national average.

Even in urban areas, where people are more food secure, another problem related to malnutrition has appeared—namely, obesity. The obesity rate among children in the cities doubled during the past decade, and obesity is compatible and even correlated with malnutrition.

Dr. Zahra Abdollahi, the Health Ministry’s head of nutrition, said reduction of malnutrition in certain provinces is a priority.

This would improve children’s school performance and overall quality of life. It would also improve the health of mothers and newborns.

Malnutrition is estimated to contribute to more than one-third of all child deaths globally, although it is rarely listed as the direct cause. Lack of access to nutritious food, especially in the context of rising food prices, is a common cause of malnutrition.