In Vietnam, where one-third of children under age five suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition, and an additional 20 percent of children are considered underweight and malnourished, the Pediatric Nutrition Program is a shining example of hope and progress.
This past May 2013, an international event in Vietnam celebrated the ten-year success of the Pediatric Nutrition Program. This partnership between AmeriCares, Giao Diem Humanitarian Foundation (GDHF) and Abbott and its foundation the Abbott Fund has substantially improved the health and lives of approximately 22,000 preschool children living in rural areas where resources are scarce and hunger prevalent.
The commemoration recognized the program’s remarkable success in reducing malnutrition, improving child health, and providing support to local preschools, parents, and community members. A key component of the success has been targeted education and outreach to parents about the importance of child nutrition, health and hygiene.
At the ceremony, representatives of AmeriCares, GDHF, Abbott and the Abbott Fund, local government agencies and local NGOs all received recognition alongside the dedicated preschool teachers, cooks and principals who have successfully managed the program for 10 years.
The program was first piloted among 372 Vietnamese children in preschools across the region, where teachers were trained to provide two cups of peanut-fortified soy milk per day and to carefully monitor and report changes in each student’s height, weight and health. In 2003, the average rate of malnutrition among the beneficiaries, ages 12 months to five years, was about 41 percent.
Over the past 10 years, the program has grown from a few hundred students a year to approximately 6,000 students this year. Overall, average malnutrition among the beneficiaries has been reduced to less than 20 percent, a remarkable improvement that surpasses the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of less than 25 percent. This milestone was achieved through a decade of careful monitoring and program refinement.
The program was deliberately established in poor, agrarian villages, which are vulnerable to heavy rains and cyclical flooding each year. The rainy season injures crops, further reduces beneficiary access to food, and can cause long-lasting disruptions to nutritional support for the children. The nutrition program provides reliable access to nutrition even during these challenging times.
Sustainability and Success
“The program targets children who cannot maintain a healthy weight. Each year, the program is assessed to see what works, and refined for the following year,” explained Lauren Camp, AmeriCares senior program associate. “It’s tailored to be sustainable – and each year, the parents and teacher involvement is increasing.”
According to Camp, the sustainability of this program is a key factor in its success. Each day, the children enrolled in the program are given nutrient rich, peanut-fortified soymilk, prepared locally at preschool facilities. The children’s weight, height, and iron levels are then monitored throughout the school year.
One former student, five-year-old Mi Tien, the first in her family to participate—achieved such impressive height and weight gains that her parents enrolled her younger brother in the program.
Some children, like Mi Tien, have ‘graduated out’ of the program -- they have reached and are maintaining a healthy weight with the help of their parents and the teachers. “As the program continues to grow, more and more students will be helped each year, and more and more students will graduate the program with a healthy weight,” said Camp.
Learn more about AmeriCares work in Vietnam here.