Stunting in Afghanistan


Aghani boys eating rice.
Teseum, via Flickr

When children do not eat enough food, they do not grow correctly. Liz Waid and Adam Navis look at this serious problem in Afghanistan.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

It is a warm day in Afghanistan. Rahela and her daughter Bibi sit in a large tent. The tent is filled with many other mothers and their children. All of the mothers are there for the same reason.  They are seeking medical care for their children. Bibi is 15 months old. But like many of the children around her, she is malnourished. She has not eaten enough nutrients to keep her body healthy. Because of this, Bibi weighs less than a healthy 15 month old should. She also suffers from stunted growth. She is much shorter than most children are at her age.

Voice 2 

Bibi is not alone. Many other children in Afghanistan suffer from malnutrition and stunting. UNICEF recently estimated that more than 3 million young Afghan children suffer from stunting! Today’s Spotlight is on malnutrition and stunting in Afghanistan.

Voice 1 

Malnutrition is a problem all over the world. When people are not able to eat enough healthy food, they become malnourished. Malnutrition is particularly dangerous for young children under the age of five. It can lead to permanent damage - like stunting. And this damage can happen even before a child is born. Sometimes, a mother does not get enough of the right foods and nutrients during pregnancy. When this happens, her baby can suffer lifelong effects.

Voice 2 

Dr. Moazzem Hossain is Chief of Health and Nutrition for UNICEF. He talked with the news organization CNN about the effects of malnutrition,

Voice 3 

"When you have high levels of severe malnutrition it has an immediate effect on a child's chance of sickness ... However, the chances of dying are also much higher."

Voice 1 

The problems of childhood malnutrition and stunting are particularly severe in Afghanistan. In July of 2012, UNICEF released a report on the condition of women and children in Afghanistan. The report said that 1/3 of Afghan children under the age of 5 suffer from severe malnutrition. And more than half of them suffer from moderate to severe stunting. Michael Keating is deputy head of the UN team in Afghanistan. He talked with The Guardian newspaper about these rates of malnutrition. He said,

Voice 6 

“What is shocking is that this is really very high by global levels.”

Voice 2 

In fact, these rates of malnutrition and stunting are some of the highest in the world. So why are these rates so high in Afghanistan? There are many reasons - such as war, poverty, lack of healthcare and information about breastfeeding and a healthy diet.

Voice 1 

For much of the past 34 years, Afghanistan has been at war. War has reduced many of the country’s resources. It has also made farming difficult. So, farmers produce very little food. However, even when there is food, poverty is still a major problem. The UNICEF study reported that 10 million people in Afghanistan live in poverty. Without good paying jobs, many of these people do not have money for food.

Voice 2 

Remember Bibi from the beginning of the program? Poverty is a major reason for her situation. Her mother Rahela talked with the news organization CNN. She explained,

Voice 4 

“Our life situation is not good. We are suffering a bad time. My husband has a job, but he is not paid enough money for our monthly costs.”

Voice 1 

There is another major reason for high rates of malnutrition and stunting in Afghanistan. It is a lack of information about diet and breastfeeding. Many mothers do not know that their diet during pregnancy can affect their baby’s growth after birth.

Voice 2 

Many women also learn wrong information about breastfeeding. Some women in Afghanistan believe that breastfeeding a baby right after birth is not good. Other mothers will mix their breast milk with tea or water. This makes it last longer. But, it has harmful effects for the baby. You may remember another Spotlight program called “Saving Babies in Afghanistan.”  That program looked at how skilled female health workers are reducing mother and child death rates in Afghanistan. A major way they do this is by sharing information about women’s health and breastfeeding.

Voice 1 

Training female healthcare workers and sharing information is also very important for ending childhood malnutrition and stunting. Sabera Turkmani is the president of an organization called Afghanistan Midwives Association. Midwives help care for women during pregnancy and throughout the birth process. Turkmani has worked as a midwife in Afghanistan for many years. Now, she trains other women to be midwives. She wrote about childhood malnutrition and stunting for the news organization, Al Jazeera. In her story, she explains that training and education has improved the health of women and children in Afghanistan.  But she is clear that there is more work to do.  She wrote,

Voice 5  

“Today, there are many more trained midwives in Afghanistan and the situation for mothers has improved…Yet there is still a long way to go in providing mothers with the support they need to save more lives … Many communities are still struggling with traditional beliefs that can put lives at risk. More needs to be done to spread knowledge about good diet and nutrition.”

Voice 2 

Turkmani encourages her government officials to create policies that will address childhood malnutrition and stunting. With government support, she believes in the power of women to make great changes. She writes,

Voice 5 

“Women save lives. Women are the center of healthy lives for their families. My reason for being a midwife comes from the women we support - the power of women working with women to save lives.”

Voice 1 

Training female healthcare workers and sharing information about good diet and nutrition is important. But, it is a process that will take many years. So, it is also important to address the needs of children suffering now. That is why organizations like UNICEF are working to provide healthcare and food aid.

Voice 2 

UNICEF is doing a lot of immediate care. They have set up health care tents across the country - much like the tent Rahela and her daughter Bibi visited. Here, children can receive healthcare. UNICEF provides high nutrient food and medicine. This kind of aid does not fix the whole problem. But it helps many women and children now.

Voice 1 

And UNICEF’s work has helped Rahela and Bibi. Rahela told the CNN news organization,

Voice 4  

“My child was born very weak... I have been coming here twice a month, for three months.  Now, Bibi is getting much better. She is putting on weight and getting stronger.”

Voice 2 

The writer and producer of this program was Dianna Anderson. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “Stunting in Afghanistan.”

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Question:

Do children get enough food in your country? Who helps provide food for those who need it?

Comments


Long Pham's avatar
Long Pham
said on December 11, 2012

I hope that UNICEF will provides high nutrient food and medicine for childhood and women, this program need to spreading more and more to other poverty’s country . Many places need a lot of these aids about heathcare and for childhood and pregnant.

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kenhieuloilam
said on December 13, 2012

We are concerned about caring for everyone in community. We were born and grow up. We are cared for, taught and educated. We develop physically and spiritually. We need to get good health of physique to be able to do workings. We need to get good health of spirit to be able to do good things. We try much to become good persons. We develop each individual. We develop community. We develop our community to be beautiful, good community.

Dzung.vn's avatar
Dzung.vn
said on December 16, 2012

Vietnam young children have ever faced to malnutrition problem. now a day, this problem is more brighter than before. Its Due to the government’s efforts and aids from National organization such as UNICEF.
At the present, there are a lot of people, particularly here is lactating women who having a wrong conception about nutrition and personal hygiene after birth. they dare not eat as usual as they are pregnant or normal people. About the personal hygiene, they have only a shower after birth one month. the way to have a bath is very special. That is they use a cotton bath towel and dip it in to warm water and clean them self. it is sound funny, but it is true.
Oh! Night has gone. Bye!

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Honneur
said on June 12, 2018

I live in Brazil. The Brazilian government is a fiction in aid the population health. This a sad reality that we, Brazilians, will most work very hard to change. I think we need 30 generations to change our country in a pleasant and fair place.