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Sri Lanka minister rejects UNICEF malnutrition report, questions data


ECONOMYNEXT – A Sri Lankan government minister has rejected a UNICEF report that ranked the island nation sixth in a global child malnutrition index, even as opposition lawmakers warn of an imminent child malnutrition crisis and a looming protein deficit as prices of food and protein sources skyrocket.

Minister of Plantation and Industries Ramesh Pathirana said the UNICEF findings cannot be accepted as conclusive since the data analysed for the report was from 2016.

The minister made this remark during a debate in parliament on Wednesday September 07 on child malnutrition in relation to Sri Lanka’s prevailing economic crisis, the worst since independence.

The UNICEF report shows that over 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, require humanitarian assistance in Sri Lanka, making it among the top ten countries with the highest number of malnourished children. The UN agency expects the numbers to rise further.

Related:

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka faces increasing child malnutrition, looming protein deficit

According to the report, 15.1 percent of children under five years of age were affected. “Sri Lanka has made no progress towards achieving the target for wasting,” it said.

Speaking in parliament, Pathirana went on to say, “The data taken from countries relate to different years. India’s data has been taken in 2017 and Eritrea’s data is from 1995. There is a significant difference in the results and we can’t take this as a final report.” 

The report had indicated 12 global nutritional targets out of which Sri Lanka is making progress with two: childhood obesity and exclusive breastfeeding. Sri Lanka has made no progress and is in a worsening situation with childhood wasting and anemia. Some progress has been made with childhood stunting and low birth weight.

“We can’t take this as a complete report and [and it has] not indicated the situations in other countries and different ages. So we beg to differ in relation to their statement,” said Pathirana. 

The UNICEF report ranked Sri Lanka sixth in global malnutrition rates amid an economic collapse that resulted in steep price increments followed by shortages and inadequacies of necessities. The overall South East Asia region is undergoing a “burden of malnutrition at a glance”, it said. 

Citing local research, the minister said Sri Lanka was moving away from malnutrition. In 2021, he said, the country had accounted for a rate of 12.2 percent in terms of malnutrition according to data collected by Sri Lanka’s Medical Research Institute. 

Fellow government MP Upul Mahendran who also spoke in parliament said: “We asked the Health Ministry about our UNICEF ranking and they did not have an exact answer to that. They presented us with some data from 2016.” (Colombo/Sep07/2022) 

 



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