Speech by Dr Juliet Fleischl at the Workshop on Double Burden of Malnutrition and Policy Coherence

Dr Juliet Fleischl
WHO Representative to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic
24 June 2014, Lao Plaza Hotel, Vientiane

Your Excellency, Vice-Minister of Health, Dr Inlavanh Keobounphanh; Honourable government and international partners; Distinguished guests and colleagues; Ladies and gentlemen:

It is an honour for me to address you on behalf of the World Health Organization, and to welcome you to this very important workshop on the double burden of malnutrition and assessing policies for coherence to improve nutrition.

Good nutrition is vital for good health. Good nutrition is the fuel that drives healthy growth and development and can help prevent disease throughout the life course: among infants, young children, adults and the elderly. Good nutrition also drives economic prosperity, as a strong and healthy workforce is the engine of development.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the importance of a healthy diet from the day we are born – starting with initiation of breastfeeding in the first hour of life – the nutrition agenda remains unfinished.

Undernutrition still accounts for about 11% of the global burden of disease and contributes to about one third of all child deaths globally. In addition, rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are growing.

These conditions are risk factors for noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes – all of which are life threatening and are very difficult to treat in places with limited resources and already overburdened health systems.

Many low- and middle-income countries, especially those in a phase of rapid economic growth and development, are confronted with both issues simultaneously. This is known as the “double burden of malnutrition”.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is in the midst of a “nutrition transition”, from a situation in which undernutrition was the only nutrition concern for the country, to one in which overnutrition and obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases are becoming equally important.

The prevalence of chronic undernutrition, also called stunting, in children under the age of 5 years remains high at 44.2%. This means that almost every second child in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is not getting the food he or she needs to grow and develop healthily. On the other hand, rates of overweight and obesity are growing quickly. Recent data indicate that already over 25% of women of reproductive age are overweight.

There is a lot that can and should be done to address the double burden of malnutrition in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Based on the currently active exploration for multisectoral approaches to address food and nutrition security in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and as one of the planned activities from the joint mission (UNICEF, Save the Children, IBFN and WHO) that took place in March this year for scoping the nutrition law, this workshop aims to review the existing legislation as a step towards policy coherence to address the double burden of malnutrition.

We hope that the meeting will establish sectorwide understanding of current nutrition policies, legal documents and agreed-on strategies that have positive outcomes on nutrition, and how we can use limited resources to achieve the nutrition goals of the country.

WHO remains committed to support the Government and the Ministry of Health in achieving better nutritional status for the people of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Working together, we can eliminate hunger and malnutrition. With the right policies and investments, we can make dramatic progress in one generation – not in some distant future but in our own lifetimes.

With that, I wish you success in this workshop and I commend you for taking up the challenge of working together to ensure that the people of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have the fuel they need to be healthy, strong and productive.

Thank you.