MYANMAR. 2014. MAGNA nutritionist during an anthropometric measurment of children in the community. Copyright by Martin Bandžák/MAGNA
Myanmar (also called Burma) is currently considered one of the poorest countries in Asia, where 2.5 million (35%) children under the age of 5 suffer from stunting as a result of long-term malnutrition.
The country situated in Southeast Asia is home to approximately 53 million inhabitants. Its economy is considered to be undeveloped, corrupt and controlled by supporters of the previous military government. Myanmar, that was under military regime for almost 50 year, has a very strong potential in the sector of agriculture. However, as the development of the country remains underfinanced, any profitability from agriculture remains unthinkable.
Central “dry zone”
Central, so called “dry zone” that covers more than 54,000 km2 includes majority of the Magway Region, west and middle part of the Mandalay Region and south part of the Sagaing Region. Home of the quarter of the whole population is in a devastating condition: very low food production causes starvation among inhabitants, which leads to the risk of malnutrition. Typical household is made of 5-7 people and the area is heavily populated. As much as 18.5% households in dry zone are facing the lack of food. Experts point to a growing lack of water and an unpredictable weather which causes the current critical situation. They believe that any solutions here require long-term planning and strategies for this area.
Compared to other states and regions in Myanmar, Magway is the second region with the most widespread acute malnutrition among children under five years. This is 10.4% of the total number (of which 3.2% suffer from severe acute malnutrition SAM). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), severe malnutrition in 10-14% cases of children under 5 years is considered to be serious. Many sources agree that potential causes of high malnutrition rates in dry zone are for example bad weather, lack of finances that causes poverty, low hygiene and sanitation levels, diseases, but also lack of breastfeeding and complementary feeding of children.
According to Save the Children, both acute and chronic malnutrition require our attention. Same applies to the nutritional status of mothers, mainly among pregnant and breastfeeding women. It necessary to focus on vulnerable group: women in reproductive age, pregnant and breastfeeding women, newborns and children between 2-5 years of age.
In 2014, MAGNA developed and implemented Rapid Anthropometric Assessment in areas of Chauk and Yenangyaung in the Magway region thanks to the assistance and support of National Nutrition Council (NNC) under the Ministry of Health of Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
In the same year, MAGNA also closely cooperated with Magway’s Region Health Department (RHD) and with health authorities in Chauk and Yenangyaung areas. The results of Rapid Anthropometric Assessment are revealing that majority of children between 6th to 59th month of age from Chauk and Yenangyaung are malnourished. Syndrome of stunting is the major health problem in this area, and is estimated to be spread among almost 36% of children- a number classified very high according to WHO. We can confirm that 12.3% of children under 5 years living in the Dry Zone were acutely malnourished during the monitoring. (If more than 15% of the population suffers from acute malnutrition, it is considered “critical emergency” according to WHO).
“People are borrowing money to buy food and they are in debt. They spend all the money to feed their families,” describes current situation Romain Santon, MAGNA coordinator. Families living in this area are very often in debt several hundred dollars because of food. Borrowing money and food became a part of their normal life. Low and an unstable rainfall, frequent droughts in recent decades together with poverty and almost no access to health care are making the whole situation even more difficult.
“The area Chauk is one of the 6 poorest regions from all 25 regions in Magway. There is a lack of food, bad transportation, high unemployment, widespread illiteracy, low hygiene level and lack of medical facilities. Malnutrition reaches high levels in population. It means that our intervention is needed in this area,” Romain concludes.
Despite the obvious need for an intervention for treatment and prevention of acute malnutrition, there are only very few (if any) programs specifically focused on non-emergency areas in Myanmar. MAGNA (in cooperation with the Department of Health, UNICEF, National Nutrition Programme and the Ministry of Health) is launching a comprehensive program, which will also entail a distribution of Ready-to-use therapeutic food used for treatment of acute malnutrition in functional health facilities to solve the situationin in the Magway region.
Magna Children at Risk has been operating in Myanmar since 2013.