I recently traveled to Qaliobia, Lower Egypt with Dr. Ali Abdelmegeid, Deputy Chief of Party of the Smart Choices for Healthy Living (SMART) project. In Qaliobia, stunting rates have doubled between the last two national demographic and health surveys (DHS) in 2005 and 2008. This poses a problem for Egypt economically, because stunting increases the risk of morbidity and mortality in children and decreases productivity and life-time earnings in adults.
Qaliobia is one of the sites of an operations research study that will examine factors associated with stunting in Lower Egypt in comparison to Upper Egypt in MCHIP’s SMART project areas beginning in June 2012. In a visit with one local community leader, Mr. Mohamed Abdo, a retired social worker who manages the Bahada community development association (CDA) clinic supported under the SMART project, was asked: "What is stunting? Do you think it is a problem in your community?" Mr. Abdo replied: "Stunting is when a child is small. It is [mainly] genetic and seems to not be a problem here. Maybe ....a little of it could be [due to] malnutrition."
This field visit demonstrates that there is not enough awareness about the problem of stunting in children and that it is related to malnutrition. In most countries, there is a misconception that stunting or short stature is due to genetic factors in certain ethnic groups. A recent multi-site study by the World Health Organization found little difference in growth in healthy and optimally-fed children younger than five years of age.
In Egypt—and in all countries worldwide—the concept that short stature can be prevented if children are optimally fed needs to be shared at all levels. The MCHIP SMART project is assisting CDAs to reduce stunting in their communities by improving the diet of mothers and the way children are fed using available household resources.
Dr. Justine Kavle
Senior Program Officer for Nutrition, MCHIP