VIENTIANE, Laos — A new initiative was recently launched in southern Laos that seeks to reduce anemia and other nutrition-based health issues in children. UNICEF, in partnership with the mining company MMG and the Government of Laos, developed and produced a powder called Superkid in an attempt to address the issue.
Superkid is a powder containing vitamins, iron, zinc and other nutrients that help provide fuller nutrition to children’s diets. It is sprinkled over the child’s meal, and is designed to help prevent illnesses caused from nutrient deficiencies.
Despite expansive economic growth in Laos in recent years, malnutrition in children remains a critical problem. Specifically, deficiencies like anemia cause mental and physical development problems and are most prevalent in the southern parts of the country. Over 40 percent of children ages 6 months to 5 years suffer from anemia. Nationwide, 44 percent of children have stunted growth. Laos also has the second-highest rate of malnutrition in East Asia and the Pacific.
Poor nutrition in childhood can have lasting effects on adult life, making people weak and sick as they grow older. This severely hampers human capital, productivity in the work force and economic growth.
Anemia is caused by a lack of red blood cells and makes people feel weak, tired and unable to concentrate. For children, this hinders critical development, affecting their home and school life. In Laos, the problem stems from the fact that children are not consuming food with enough nutrients.
The staple food for many in Laos is rice, which lacks complete proteins and many nutrients. This reliance on rice and a lack of available animal protein are significant factors in Laos’ high rates of malnutrition.
Children living in rural areas are especially affected. The obstacles to complete nutrition include geographic isolation, a reliance on subsistence farming and a lack of knowledge about healthy diets. Rural regions are also particularly vulnerable to food insecurity when bad weather patterns lead to low crop yield.
Health officials, aid organizations and private pharmacists will distribute about 4 million packets of Superkid. They will also be promoting hygiene practices and healthy feeding methods for children. The goal is to reach over 180,000 children under the age of 6 in the southern provinces of Saravan, Savannakhet and Attapeu during the next 59 months. The initiative then plans to reach the rest of the country based on the results of these first years.
The campaign first began in 2012 with MMG, UNICEF and the Government of Laos pledging $1.38 million to fight malnutrition. Since the project’s inception, the Ministry of Health in Laos, Populations Services International and the University of British Columbia have also signed on, researching and developing a strategy to best fight malnutrition in Laos. The Superkid powder product is a main part of this initiative.
– Kathleen Egan