Leaders of the 10 member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) pledged to end malnutrition in all its forms - including over- and under-nutrition.

The declaration was released following the conclusion of the 31st ASEAN summit held in Manila, Philippines, the host country.

“The Declaration embodies the highest level of political commitment towards a multisectoral collaborative approach on food security and nutrition among sectors such as agriculture, public health and nutrition, and social welfare,” said the Department of Health (DOH).

Yearly, four million children in ASEAN suffer from severe wasting, and less than half of them receive treatment, according to a joint UNICEF, ASEAN and World Health Organization (WHO) report.

The same report noted that several ASEAN countries have the double-burden of over- and under-nutrition, especially in middle-income countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

These countries have a significant number of underweight children as well as overweight children. The double-burden might have resulted from a country having higher economic gains.

On the other hand, stunting is also high in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar, including some areas in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Locally, one in three children aged below five years is malnourished, according to Save the Children Foundation. Twenty-six percent of children (up to two years old) grow up to be chronically malnourished, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) reported.

In the recent ASEAN summit, it was revealed that nearly 18  million girls and boys are too short for their age, compromising their mental development as a result. This has strong implications - oftentimes irreversible - for individuals, families, communities and countries.

“It is imperative that ASEAN Member States, without delay, scale actions toward ending all forms of malnutrition, to make sure that the potential of everyone, everywhere, is unleashed by making malnutrition an injustice of the past,” said the DOH.

After ASEAN countries committed to ending malnutrition, the group declared they will focus on the most vulnerable, poor and disadvantaged members, engage with relevant sectors, formulate a strategic plan, and commit investments.

“[The ASEAN will] strengthen human and institutional capacities to enhance skills on multisectoral programme planning and evaluation, policy analysis and advocacy, research, disease surveillance, human resource development and service delivery,” the association said in a statement.

DOH said the Philippines, in March 2018, will lead the formulation of the framework of action for nutrition and as well as craft a strategic plan to enact the Declaration.

ASEAN health leaders will ensure the delivery of nutrition-related and specific interventions and programmes.

The Declaration is aligned with the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community 2025 which calls for the region to be “inclusive, sustainable, resilient and dynamic, engaging and benefiting [to] the peoples.”  MIMS 

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