What about health?

  • High-flown election manifestos are silent about basic things like ending malnutrition
- Jeeban Ghimire

May 16, 2017-The election manifestos published by the political parties are filled with tall promises like raising the per capita income to $5,000 in five years, establishing zero poverty, generating 4,000 MW of power and so on and so forth. But how many parties have said anything about improving the people’s well-being? Who has given any thought to our health? People require convenient transportation, quality health services and access to a balanced diet and quality nourishment. We have not heard about political parties raising these issues even though they are directly connected with public health, well-being and occupation. 

Nutritional status

According to a recent Unicef report, under-nutrition is responsible for about half of all deaths of children under five years of age. Moreover, Nepal has 30-40 percent stunting among under-five children. Child mortality is directly and indirectly connected with nutritional status.  The Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (NMICS) conducted in 2014 has revealed that 37 out of every 100 under-five children are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age. This shows that the malnutrition rate is high in Nepal despite all the government resources and donor aid that have been spent on cutting malnutrition for the past 15 years. The malnutrition status is higher among the poor, minority communities and people in remote areas. 

Maternal nutrition is even worse. 

A large number of young married women are undernourished. We can imagine how healthy their children will be. How can such children be expected to participate in national development in the future? The root cause of maternal and child malnutrition in Nepal are poverty and political instability. More immediate causes are the lack of adequate calories, poor care, absence of instruction and low usage of health services. 

According to a World Bank estimate, malnutrition brings down the Gross Domestic Product of a country by 3-7 percentage points. So how can poverty in Nepal be decreased without addressing malnutrition? Every rupee spent on children’s nutrition brings a return of Rs150 besides expanded profitability and improved well-being of the general public in the long run. How can the country’s per capita income be increased to $5,000 as the political parties have promised in their election manifestos without investing in nutrition? Researchers have said that stunting is irreversible. So putting resources into nutrition is absolutely essential for the country’s economic and social improvement. If these issues are not raised during the election campaign, who will care about them after the voting is over?

Golden 1,000 days

Scientists say that nutrition plays a fundamental role in a child’s physical, mental and cognitive development from conception to the second birthday, a period called the first 1,000 days. Currently, a worldwide campaign is being conducted to put resources into nutrition during the ‘Golden 1,000 days’. This effort has been inspired by reports published by researchers that a child’s brain develops rapidly from birth to three years of age. Thus nutrition is important to prepare quality leaders for the future. Political parties should have a plan to create quality and focused human capital by enhancing nutrition of mothers and children. This is an opportune time for all parties to have an effective programme of activities to build accessible quality health services and sanitation to break the endless cycle of malnutrition.

All parties should have sectorial plans like governance, administration, agriculture, health care, water system and so forth to enhance nutrition for the development of future human capital. Nepal needs to expand interest in nutrition with year-round exercises from the base up. Currently, under the federal framework, all parties should develop motivation among their cadres at the local level. They should study the circumstances as often as possible in the village councils and municipalities. This is necessary because leaders like to travel to international meetings and sign grand objectives like bringing down poverty and hunger to zero by 2030 without thinking about how they are going to achieve it. This is a big challenge for Nepal because, for example, it took five years to reduce stunting by 4 percent, so how can we bring it down to zero from 37 percent within the deadline? The commitment of political parties is highly necessary here.


Ghimire is pursuing a PhD at Texila American University, Guyana

Published: 16-05-2017 07:52

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