Lin Lin Kyaw is a 4-year-old living in Auk Kone Village, Laputta Township, Ayeyarwaddy Region of Myanmar. For breakfast every morning, Lin Lin Kyaw’s mother makes him rice with an egg. For lunch, he has rice with vegetables and some biscuits. In Myanmar, although meals are regularly taken, they usually consist of large portions of rice mixed with fish paste. As a result of the lack of dietary diversity, up to 35% of children under the age of five are estimated to be suffering from stunting.
This means that nearly 1.6 million children under-five in Myanmar are stunted, a condition that could cause children not to reach their physical and cognitive potential.
“I like to eat bananas, papayas and eggs,” said Lin Lin Kyaw. “My favourite food is papaya salad”. But this kind of diversity is not always allowed for him. In fact, the highest rates of stunting are found in these poorest areas, mostly populated by ethnic minority groups, where up to 50% of children are affected by stunting.
For mothers living in some of these impoverished areas, being pregnant means they don’t work from their fifth month of pregnancy until they’ve recovered from childbirth and are ready to resume manual labour again. This period of time sees a large reduction in family income and as a result, the family’s expenditure on food reduces.
“I stopped working when I was five months pregnant,” said Saw Shwe Then, 30, from Tan Hlwea Chaung Village in Rakhine State of Myanmar. “Before I stopped working, we used to spend about 60,000 kyats (US$60) on food. Now we spend 50,000 kyats (US$50) because I cannot work. Most of my neighbours help me when I don’t have money to buy food”, explained. “For dinner last night, I had a carrot. And for lunch I had rice and a banana”.
As a result of poor nutrition, many mothers like Saw Shwe Then will likely give birth to children who are of low birth weight. The inability to provide them with a diverse diet will likely also cause their children to be stunted, and the following consequences on the child’s physical and mental development can create a vicious cycle of poverty.
Save the Children has a host of health, nutrition and livelihood programmes aimed at tackling the issue of stunting in Myanmar. Our health and nutrition staffs work closely with the Ministry of Health to improve the capacity and facilities of auxiliary midwives to better provide antenatal and postnatal care to mothers and to treat common childhood diseases among under-five children.
Auxiliary midwives and community health workers are trained to provide maternal as well as infant and young child feeding counselling to mothers and mothers-in-law. Save the Children is also piloting an innovative maternal and child cash transfer programme in Rakhine State, Ayeyarwaddy and Magway regions in Myanmar. The programme provides monthly cash allowances for women who are pregnant or lactating with soft conditionality of attending nutrition sessions, seeking antenatal care and vaccinating their children according to the government recommendations.
Save the Children is campaigning to reach every last child in Myanmar, especially those who are suffering from malnutrition and stunting. We are calling on government to promote an appropriate allocation of resources and prioritisation of key activities to improve food and nutrition security. By improving the coverage of social protection programs, we can make significant strides in child survival and learning.