Bringing better nutrition to Uzbekistan
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: A UNV volunteer nutrition specialist from Djibouti is helping the Government of Uzbekistan to develop better ways of preventing malnourishment and ill-health among mothers and children.
For the last year, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the World Bank has been working on a Nutrition Investment Plan (NIP) for Uzbekistan. It is being implemented under the Uzbek Government Cabinet of Ministries and also in coordination with the Uzbek food industry.
The three-year strategy prioritizes mothers and children because they have the highest risk of malnutrition in Uzbekistan. The country previously lacked an integrated national nutrition strategy.
UNV volunteer Dr. Ali Mohamed Mahdi, who has more than 28 years of relevant professional experience in various medical and administrative fields, is responsible for coordinating the development of the NIP with Government counterparts. With the support of a UNICEF consultant, he organizes and facilitates workshops, writes reports and gives technical support to working groups and Government partners.
Dr. Mahdi explains that nutrition significantly affects children's development, women's health and national productivity as a whole, and that awareness of this is necessary at a high level.
An analysis conducted for the NIP indicates that malnutrition in Uzbekistan is responsible for about one-third of deaths involving children under five years old. It burdens the national economy with about US$ 1 billion a year of additional health care costs, depresses workforce performance and retards the development of children.
"The NIP is a feasible and cost effective strategy that brings various ongoing and largely donor-supported nutrition activities into one comprehensive, integrated, coordinated and nationally managed initiative," Dr. Mahdi says. A preliminary projection showing the potential economic benefits of the NIP indicates a return of about $25 dollars for every dollar invested.
The NIP's planned measures include expanding flour fortification to reach 80 per cent of the population. This could reduce anaemia in women by 20 percent, improve the iron status of children, and cut rates of some serious birth defects by 50 percent. The project also aims to expand salt iodization to reach 85 percent of the population so as to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders, and to develop a pilot project to fortify oil and margarine with folic acid (vitamin A), to ward off anaemia in 1.5 million teenage girls. To help see this through, the NIP is coordinating and integrating management, communications and monitoring within appropriate Government institutions.
As something of a unique initiative, not only in the region but also globally, the NIP is being offered as a model for other Central Asian countries and was presented at the Maternal and Children's Health Forum in Almaty, Kazakhstan, during April 2008. Uzbekistan's Deputy Minister of Health strongly advocated the idea to colleagues from other countries.
Dr. Mahdi says: "As a result of sharing this approach inside and outside UNICEF and the region, concrete steps are being undertaken in Azerbaijan, Albania and Kyrgyzstan to carry out a similar approach with UNICEF support. In addition, many more countries have shown interest in this model as well as partner agencies."
"Given the current food crisis, such a model can certainly prove to be a good planning tool for government measures," he concludes.
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