About six million of the country's 15 million children below five are undersized and intellectually underdeveloped due to severe malnutrition, said noted public health experts at a discussion yesterday.
Nearly 40 percent of these under fives are stunted, a physical state that is the worst manifestation of child malnutrition caused by lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene, said Tahmeed Ahmed, director of Centre for Nutrition and Food Security at ICDDR,B.
The Daily Star, Civil Society Alliance for Scaling up Nutrition (CSA for Sun) and WaterAid Bangladesh jointly organised the discussion on child nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at The Daily Star Centre in the capital.
Tahmeed, who also teaches public health nutrition at Brac University, said these malnourished children would not only be physically weak but also suffer from poor intellectual growth.
He said they had observed a slum girl for about two and a half years and found that during the period the child caught diarrhoea and fever 45 times due to lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
WASH and child nutrition are hence indispensable, he noted.
According to Tahmeed, poverty, high density of population, food insecurity, poor sanitation and hygiene, and environmental pollution someway or other cause malnutrition.
He also said during a survey, they had found that due to lack of WASH 40 percent of homemade supplementary foods for babies get contaminated with E-coli, a germ found in faeces.
Stunted parents would give birth to stunted children putting an overall impact on the nation, said Zeba Mahmud, director of Brac Institute of Global Health.
Md Khairul Islam, country representative of WaterAid Bangladesh, said the WASH programmes must be coordinated to achieve the nutrition goal and that assessment on WASH should be included in the mainstream health programmes.
He said successes in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are shown with improved sources of drinking water and a number of sanitary latrines, but the actual success would remain far away unless safe water, proper sanitation and hygiene are ensured at all levels.
Yakub Hossain, deputy executive director of Village Education Resource Centre, said the WASH programmes of various organisations failed to achieve the desired goal due to lack of coordination.
Chairperson of CSA for SUN Rukhsana Haider, who chaired the discussion, said nutrition must be a development indicator.
The struggle for a better future must go on although there are many frustrating realities, observed Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star.
Kaosar Afsana, director of Health, Nutrition and Population Programme, and MA Sabur, a public health specialist, also took part in the discussion.