Efforts to include treatment for child wasting in Vietnamese laws should be accelerated: UNICEF

UNICEF is calling for countries to strengthen nutrition policies and include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes.
UNICEF kêu gọi các quốc gia tăng cường chính sách dinh dưỡng và tích hợp điều trị suy dinh dưỡng cấp tính ở trẻ em vào các chương trình y tế và ngân sách phát triển dài hạn. (Nguồn: UNICEF)
UNICEF is calling for countries to strengthen nutrition policies and include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes. (Source: UNICEF Viet Nam)

In a press release on May 18, UNICEF continues to release global evidence on the rising levels of malnutrition in children.

All forms of this disease are prevalent in Viet Nam, where the estimate based on 2019 annual nutrition surveillance, revealed that 230,000 under-5 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) annually.

Malnutrition is listed as a disease in the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, and it is a preventable and treatable disease.

Wasting, defined as low weight-for-height, is the most visible and lethal type of malnutrition.

Severe wasting, where children are too thin for their height, resulting in weakened immune systems, is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Worldwide, at least 13.6 million children under five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in 1 in 5 deaths among this age group.

Given the close links between SAM, stunting and mortality, interventions aimed at prevention and treatment of SAM will help to further reduce both child mortality and stunting.

Viet Nam has prioritized nutrition policies through resolutions and subsequent directives emphasizing stunting, reduction and enhancement of nutrition care. Prevention and treatment of children with SAM is one of the key objectives of the National Nutrition Strategy 2021–2030 and National Targeted Programmes.

“Viet Nam has established a good enabling environment for SAM prevention and treatment, with clear political commitments”, said UNICEF Representative, Ms. Rana Flowers.

“However, there are no policies nor funding sources identified in central or local budgets for Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) interventions, with 90 percent of SAM cases being untreated. Now’s the time to accelerate ongoing efforts by taking action to include examinations and treatment of SAM children in the revision of the Law on Medical Examination and Treatment”, she added.

The nationwide expansion of this intervention requires a funding mechanism for the management and treatment of children with SAM. To reach every child with life-saving treatment, UNICEF is calling for countries to include treatment for child wasting under health insurance and long-term development funding schemes so that all children can benefit from treatment programmes.

Given that SAM can only be treated effectively by using specialized therapeutic nutrition products that need to be prescribed under medical guidance, the treatment of SAM requires a specific legal framework to enable access in Viet Nam.

Amendments to the various laws related to health which are being reviewed currently and in the near future, including the revision of the Law on Medical Examination and Treatment, offer a unique opportunity to address the poor access to treatment.

According to Ms. Rana Flowers, by incorporating and specifying the use of therapeutic nutrition products for treatment for children with SAM into the amendment of laws that are being reviewed now, Viet Nam will pave the way to save the lives of an estimated 230,000 children every year.

“Otherwise, these children face the risk of dying from a disease that can be easily prevented and treated. Viet Nam has the resources and capacity to prevent these unnecessary deaths by ensuring that children with SAM have the health care and treatment they need to survive, thrive and develop to their full potential”, UNICEF Representative remarked.

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