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Poor Growth in the Womb Cited as Number One Cause of Stunting in Children under Five Years

Experts say one-third of children under the age of five are stunted

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FILE - UNICEF staff measure a girl's height to see if she is stunted in a village health clinic of South Hamgyong province, North Korea. VOA
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November 2, 2016: The number one risk factor for stunting in children under five years old is poor growth in the womb, according to a new study.

Investigators at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health say more emphasis should be placed on pregnant women to eliminate stunting, a major cause of economic hardship in developing countries.

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The primary causes of stunting typically are thought to be environmental exposures after birth, such as malnutrition, infectious disease and poor sanitation. However, new research now targets poor fetal growth as the primary cause. The study was published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

Researchers say the problem appears to be inter-generational, with mothers of stunted children often stunted themselves.

“We may need to improve nutrition and prevent infection, especially among women of reproductive age for a few generations until we get this burden removed,” said Goodarz Danaei, an assistant professor of Global Health at Harvard and lead author of the study.

Experts say one-third of children under the age of five are stunted. That translates into 44 million two-year-olds in 137 developing countries.

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Experts say key brain and physical development occurs during the first 1,000 days of life, so stunted growth is considered a major risk factor for childhood survival and an economic burden in developing countries.

In the Harvard study, investigators cited 18 risk factors for stunting, grouping them into five categories in order of priority:

  • Poor fetal growth and preterm birth;
  • Environmental factors, including contaminated water, poor sanitation and indoor biomass fuel use;
  • Maternal nutrition and infection;
  • Child nutrition and infection;
  • Teenage motherhood and short birth intervals (less than two years between child births).
    One Sustainable Development Goal set by the United Nations is to reduce childhood stunting by 40 percent by the year 2025.

To do that, Danaei believes there has to be a shift in how public health officials address stunting by focusing on the health of women of childbearing age.

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“So we think that we now need to keep doing what we were doing before, but also shift some of the focus on and attention on pre-pregnancy and pregnancy as well as environmental factors — specifically poor sanitation — to remove the rest of the stunting in the world,” Danaei said.

Danaei and his colleagues plan to examine the economic costs of stunting globally, which are considered enormous.

Danaei hopes the latest report helps the World Health Organization and World Bank prioritize the risk factors that should be targeted to eliminate stunting. (VOA)

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Experts Say Measles Victims Dropped Below 100,000 in 2016

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Measles Victims Dropped
Foriza Begum, background, a newly arrived Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar, reacts to her daughter Nosmin Fatima's scream as she receives a vaccination to prevent measles and rubella at a makeshift medical center in Teknaf, Bangladesh. VOA
  • Latest reports of WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the rate of deaths from measles has dropped.
  • As per experts, a number of people who died from measles in 2016 were about 90,000, compared to 550,000 in 2000.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the rate of deaths from measles has dropped 84 percent since the beginning of a global vaccination campaign in 2000.

Experts say the number of people who died from the disease in 2016 was about 90,000, compared to more than 550,000 deaths in 2000. This marks the first time that worldwide measles deaths have fallen to less than 100,000 per year.

Robert Linkins, of the Measles and Rubella Initiative at the CDC, said in a statement that “saving an average of 1.3 million lives per year through vaccine is an incredible achievement and makes a world free of measles seem possible, even probable, in our lifetime.”

Since 2000, some 5.5 billion doses of measles vaccine have been administered to children through routine immunization services and mass vaccination campaigns. The disease is contagious through air particles and can spread quickly. The disease kills more people every year than any other vaccine-preventable disease.

But the WHO says the world is still far from reaching regional measles elimination goals. Since 2009, officials have managed to deliver a first dose of the vaccine to 85 percent of the babies who need it, but there has been no improvement in that rate in eight years. And only 64 percent of the affected population has gotten the second dose, which comes when a child is four or five years old.

The WHO says “far too many children” — about 20.8 million — have not had their first vaccine dose. Most of those children live in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The disease puts children at risk of developing complications such as pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis, and blindness.(VOA)