The good news is that several countries in the region,
But overall, .
In this context, it’s critical to confront failures that impede progress toward better health and nutrition in the region. Even more so since some undernutrition challenges persist, and new ones are emerging.
This starts early in a child’s life as breastfeeding rates remain low. Though early initiation of breastfeeding has more than doubled to 40 percent between 2000 and 2016, more than 20 million infants are still not being breastfed within the first hour of birth.
Progress is also uneven across the region: breastfeeding initiation ranges from 18 percent in Pakistan to about 90 percent in Sri Lanka.
Also worrisome is that
Further to that, the diets of infants over six months continue to be one of South Asia’s biggest and most persistent challenges.
This is a low number explained in part by the delayed introduction of semi-solid foods in children’s diets as well as the low quality, variety, and quantity of their food intakes.
Socio-cultural practices and poor maternal education are some of the factors behind such poor nutrition practices.
An emerging challenge that could jeopardize or slow down progress is the rapid urbanization in South Asia and the social transformation that comes with it, especially for mothers working outside the home.
With about 26 percent of working-age females in South Asia being economically active - a rate varying from 22 percent in Pakistan to about 51 percent in Nepal – their contribution to the economy in both formal and informal sectors is considerable. And .
But for working women, moving from a rural area to a city also brings added stress such as the lack of housing, and access to water and sanitation, let alone the loss of familiar community support or alternate child care systems, and impairs their ability to feed their young children appropriately.
For those lucky enough to have a formal job with benefits, maternity leave has helped to increase nutrition benefits for young children—even lower infant mortality in some countries—and boost breastfeeding rates by 52 percent.
No doubt, further investments, and actions are needed to curb malnutrition. Yet, the constraints that working urban women face are not well understood, let alone solutions to address them.
What’s clear, however, is that improving infant and youth child feeding provides tangible benefits.
In India alone, universalized breastfeeding could reduce 156,000 child deaths each year, decrease at least 3,436,560 respiratory infections and 3,900,000 episodes of diarrhea, particularly in young children.
To understand emerging challenges and critical failures, the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI) has invested in efforts to improve childhood nutrition in the region.
(in both the informal and formal sectors) living in cities. It will help them better understand the issues involved and how they might address them themselves.
SAFANSI is also supporting efforts to understand the reasons for the diminishing coverage of Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), an effective initiative to enhance breastfeeding practices, in several South Asian countries.
Over the past few years, policies and programs to improve infant and young child feeding have brought hope to babies in South Asia.