Cambodia faces a crisis of malnutrition in its under-5 population. According to the Global Nutrition Report, the national prevalence of stunting in under five-year-olds is 32.4 percent, which is 25 percent higher than the average for developed countries. Cambodia’s under-five prevalence of wasting is at 9.8 percent, which is also greater than developing countries’ average of 8.9 percent.
According to UNICEF, the main reasons for children being malnourished include a lack of food, dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene, poverty and parents’ lack of education.
Since its opening in 1999, Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC), a Siem Reap-based non-profit pediatric healthcare hospital and organisation, has been doing its best to fight malnutrition in Cambodian children, alongside the National Nutrition Programme, Ministry of Health.
“For years, we have been treating children who suffer from malnutrition and educating families on how to feed their children properly,” said Dr Ngoun Chanpheaktra, the hospital director. “We have also been training volunteers in local communities in Siem Reap province and across Cambodia to identify children suffering from malnutrition and to give them access to treatment.”
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of the worst health and socio-economic crisis the world has ever faced, the nutritional status and survival of young children in low-income and middle-income countries, including Cambodia, has run into risk. A decline in family income, changes in the availability and affordability of nutritious foods and interruptions to health, nutrition and social protection services are all factors that are expected to have increased malnutrition in children this year.
The pandemic has also caused AHC to face financial problems, which could affect its operations, including its nutrition programme.
“Like many other NGOs, we run on donations, especially from philanthropists overseas,” Dr Chanpheaktra said. “With the coronavirus putting strain on the economy and travelling, it has been really difficult for us raise funds.”
The hospital decided to submit a proposal to Smart Axiata’s 1 Million USD COVID-19 Relief Fund, a CSR initiative that is helping Cambodians cope with the health, social and economic impacts of the global pandemic, and as part of this programme, Smart Axiata has provided $60,000 to AHC to combat the growing child malnutrition crisis in the country.
Dr Chanpheaktra told Khmer Times that such generous funding will allow AHC to treat around 800 malnourished children, educate over one thousand families about proper diets and identify near 40,000 children who are at risk of malnutrition in local communities.
“This is an example of wonderful support and a great model for giving back to the community by Smart,” he added. “On behalf of AHC and all Cambodian children, I would like to thank the company so much for their assistance during this hard time.”
Thomas Hundt, Chief Executive Officer of Smart Axiata, told Khmer Times that, given the pandemic is ongoing, it still remains crucially important to ensure that issues such as child malnutrition do not go unnoticed.
“The looming malnourishment crisis can be treated and prevented and AHC’s work is of utmost importance in this regard,” he said. “Taking the necessary steps and measures will go a long way in preventing this crisis from spinning out of control. Investing in public health initiatives like these will ensure the wellbeing of Cambodia’s young people.”
“Under the 1 Million USD COVID-19 Relief Fund, we are proud to be working with Angkor Hospital for Children whose work has impacted and helped many young children. The relief fund is still accepting applications and we encourage any individuals or entities with high-impact initiatives to apply so that Cambodia can rise together, even in the face of a pandemic,” he added.