To address and battle the problem of anemia and stunting in Bhutanese children, the Ministry of Health (MoH), with the support of UNICEF launched the “sprinkles programme” in Samtse yesterday.
It is an evidence-based and cost-effective intervention that will improve the quality of complementary food for children aged six months to two years. Health centres will distribute the sprinkles when mothers and caregivers bring their child for routine growth monitoring.
Under this programme, all health facilities in Samtse will now have “sprinkles,” a micronutrient powder that has 15 different vitamins and minerals. It is a one-gram powder pack that can be easily mixed with the child’s food and fed.
Sprinkles was launched following the national nutrition survey, 2015, which revealed that two in five children were anemic, while one in five were stunted in Bhutan, a serious public health issue according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Prior to yesterday’s launch, the sprinkles programme was piloted in nine health centres, three each in Samtse, Dagana and Mongar. An assessment of the programme in these dzongkhags found high user acceptability and compliance. The interventions were successful in improving the infant and young child feeding practices and nutrition status of children aged six to 23 months.
The health ministry is targeting to scale up the sprinkles programme across the entire nation by June 2020. The programme will continue in the six health facilities in Dagana and Mongar.
The health minister Dechen Wangmo, who graced the launch said it was “a great milestone for Bhutan.”
“We are securing and investing in the future generation of our country,” she said, adding that anemia and stunting was intergenerational issue.
“If we have a mother with micro-nutrient deficiency, her child will carry the same challenge and burden. We are on a task to finally break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.”
Unless this “vicious cycle” is broken, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said Bhutan will not achieve enabling environment for children.
“We want to invest in every child born in Bhutan,” she said, explaining further that Bhutan, a small nation, cannot compromise on physical and cognitive competencies of its population.
Meanwhile, the objectives of the sprinkles programme are also to help improve nutritional status of under-five children, particularly of those with childhood Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) and stunted, to increase knowledge and awareness among parents and health service providers about the importance of micronutrient containing food and adequate dietary intake, and to promote exclusive breastfeeding and proper complementary feeding of nutritious foods.
The programme is also a part of the “accelerating maternal and child health policy,” which is working on accelerating the health outcomes of all mothers and children in Bhutan.
A mother, Sonam Youden, who has been feeding the complementary sprinkles to her son, shared her story during the launch yesterday.
Sonam’s son, Rigpa Yeshey, who is yet to turn two, frequently moved around the event hall. The child even went up at the stage to the health minister’s seat and fiddled with a sprinkle packet.
Participants at the launch said his confidence and liveliness was a great example of sprinkles.
“Sprinkles is very beneficial,” Sonam Youden said. “My son is healthier. His growth in height and weight is excellent.”
Sonam said mothers should not waste the opportunity of sprinkles.
UNICEF Representative Dr Will Parks, who was at the launch said they are happy to be part of this important effort that secures the wellbeing of children at a critical age.
“We are here for our children, our hope, our future,” he said, adding the introduction of sprinkles will bring immediate impact on child growth and development by improving the quality of complementary foods.
Dr Will Parks said sprinkles would ensure that the first 1,000 days of a child a “golden 1,000 days.”
The sprinkles programme was launched at Samtse College of Education (SME). Officials from the dzongkhag, local government, WHO, SME, and various government and private sectors also attended the programme launch.
Rajesh Rai | Samtse