*A blog by Phuong Huynh, the National Institute of Nutrition, and Linh Phan, Alive & Thrive/SUN Civil Society Alliance Viet Nam
Viet Nam is at the vanguard of baby and infant development among Southeast Asian countries. Results from a recent national nutrition survey show that Viet Nam outperforms other Southeast Asian countries in childhood stunting reduction. Now, stunting prevalence among children under five years old is at an all-time low – 19.6%, lower than the average for the Asia region (21.8%), meaning Viet Nam is ‘on course’ for the stunting target, by 2025. In parallel to this achievement, Viet Nam is also ‘on course’ to reach the exclusive breastfeeding target, with 45.4% of infants aged 0 to 5 months exclusively breastfed [i].
These remarkable milestones were presented at a technical consultation workshop for the development of the national nutrition strategy for 2021-2030 period, co-hosted by the National Institute of Nutrition and SUN Civil Society Alliance (CSA) of Viet Nam on 30 March 2021. Over 600 participants attended, representing the Ministry of Health, Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, WHO, UNICEF, World Bank, provincial People’s Committee, Departments of Health, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Department of Training and Education, Center for Disease Control of 63 provinces across the country. Considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most participants attended the workshop via Zoom, which allowed greater attendance and access to the workshop by participants from the sub-national level, and still enabled active participation during the group work exercise, facilitating discussions around challenges and solutions for nutrition improvements.
As the first consultation for the strategy development, the workshop shed light on where significant progress has been made and where challenges remain. The survey shows that although there has been an overall reduction in the prevalence of childhood stunting, this topline figure ignores significant inequalities within populations, with vulnerable groups being most affected. For example, stunting prevalence among the Kinh ethnicity is 17.1% (the majority ethnic group of Viet Nam accounting for 85% of the population), while in other ethnic minority groups this number reaches up to 32%. Budget from the central Government for nutrition programmes has gradually reduced in the last 4-5 years which is now having a demonstrable effect on interventions at all levels. At the same time, it would require more time and resources for the provincial Centres for Disease Control to consolidate the organisation, human capacity, and programme implementation for nutrition as they have experienced merging with other centers in the last two years. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group discussions relayed nutritional well-being for all, particularly for mothers and children under two, has a heightened significance in the face of this new threat both now and in the future.
During the workshop, four nutrition models were introduced to participants from 63 provinces as examples of successful health system strengthening, community mobilisation and multi-sectoral collaboration for nutrition improvement and replication.
The National Institute of Nutrition with the support of the SUN Civil Society Alliance of Viet Nam, UN agencies and other partners will incorporate inputs from the workshop and finalise the national nutrition strategy for the next quarter that includes a pro-equity agenda that supports the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The need for more equitable, resilient, and sustainable food and health systems has never been more urgent. Despite the devastating impacts of COVID-19, Viet Nam’s Government and development partners continue to deliver and elevate baby and infant health through the promotion of breastfeeding and the reduction of childhood stunting, ensuring that Viet Nam remains on track to reach the SDGs by 2030.
[i] Global Nutrition Report 2020