Over the past few decades, the state of nutrition in the country has improved, People’s average life expectancy had increased, maternal mortality and infant mortality rates have dropped and the overall state of health has improved. However, over the past few years things have slowed down in some areas, according to various studies.
The latest UN report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 states that in 2004-06, the total number of persons facing malnutrition was 23.85 million. A decade later in 2018, this figure increased to 24.2 million. The efforts to eliminate malnutrition have evidently lost pace.
One in every six persons in Bangladesh suffers from malnutrition. And 35 per cent of children under five years of age have stunted growth and 33 per cent are underweight. When an infant’s is underweight at birth, its growth is stunted and its weight remains below average. Many of such children die early.
At one time there was a downturn in the number of infants born underweight. However, that rate has begun to increase once again. If the expectant mother is undernourished, the infant is invariably underweight. Due to the mother’s malnutrition, the infant does not get breast milk. In Bangladesh, 45 per cent of the infants do not get breast milk for the entire first six months. And 22 per cent of the girls are under height. Women have a high rate of anaemia.
While our economy is seeing an almost 8 per cent growth rate, it is unfortunate to have such a state of nutrition. This hampers further economic growth. Undernourished people have lower productivity. While sometimes local and international indexes show an upturn in nutrition and health rates, this is not consistent. Such inconsistent rates do not contribute to sustainable development. It is said that we are failing to breaking away from the malnutrition cycle.
Despite economic growth, why are we not being able to break away from the malnutrition cycle? Experts say that more investment is needed for nutrition. Such investment will not only help overcome malnutrition, but will also boost the GDP growth. A study run by Denmark’s Consensus Centre concerning return on investment, states that GDP growth can increase by 3 to 8 per cent with proper investment in nutrition.
Is investment in the nutrition sector in Bangladesh inadequate? In 2016-17, the total investment in the sector was Tk 270 billion, with 13 ministries spending Tk 232.1 billion on 291 projects.
But what was the result? Experts say the results are not satisfactory. There is a lacking in proper decision-making, planning and implementation. It is imperative to have proper project planning and implementation, with due monitoring and accountability.