Micronutrient project for expectant mothers underway

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Thn providing micronutrient supplements to pregnant women will be incorporated into a national programme and provided to women free of charge. Heng Chivoan

The Ministry of Health and civil society organisations (CSOs) are working together to provide micronutrient supplements to pregnant women in the Kingdom to meet their needs during pregnancy and lactation amid the breastfeeding period.

If this pilot project is successful, then providing micronutrient supplements to pregnant women will be incorporated into a national programme and provided to women free of charge.

On July 26, experts from the health ministry and three CSOs met in Phnom Penh for discussions and an introductory workshop on the pilot project for providing multiple micronutrient supplements to pregnant women, with about 30 participants in attendance.

Hou Kreun, deputy director of the NGO Helen Keller International, said this pilot project is being conducted in three districts of Kampong Thom province where the study will select 745 participants to determine how helpful the micronutrient supplements are for pregnant women by assessing their health and running tests before and after they begin taking them.

The pilot project will run for 24 months starting this July onward. Experts will divide pregnant women from 20 health centres into two groups, with one receiving regular iron supplements and acting as the control group while the other will receive micronutrients.

"Iron supplements are provided in accordance with the ministry's current policy during the third trimester of pregnancy. Women receive 90 tablets to take while pregnant and 30 tablets after delivery.

"For micronutrient supplements, we will provide 60 tablets during pregnancy and then 30 more after delivery. Everything we are providing is being done according to the principles and guidelines of the World Health Organisation [WHO],” he said.

Kreun also stressed that in order for this pilot project to be successful, the committee will continue to study the districts where the micronutrient supplements have been distributed to ensure the use of micronutrients and iron supplements are effective and help to meet the nutritional needs of the pregnant women during pregnancy and lactation.

Prak Sophorn Neary – ministry secretary of state and chair of the coordinating committee for micronutrient supplementation for pregnant women in Cambodia – said previous national surveys clearly indicated that Cambodian women need more micronutrients such as zinc, folate, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B1, in addition to iron supplements.

“A pilot study to provide micronutrient supplements to pregnant women instead of iron supplements is another priority in our draft roadmap to enhancing nutrition and the national plan for the management of malnourished children,” she said.

Sophorn Neary noted that if the supplement pilot project was successful, the ministry hoped to provide the service free of charge to all expecting mothers.

Worldwide, 26 scientific studies had found that providing micronutrient supplements instead of just iron supplements reduced the risks of stillbirth, low birth weight and premature birth, she said.

According to Kreun, the study also found that maternal mortality was reduced and the supplements protected pregnant women from anaemia and the serious risks associated with a mother who does not gain weight during pregnancy.

According to a National Maternal and Child Health Centre official, the number of babies suffering from malnutrition remains high.

Selamawit Negash, UNICEF health and nutrition specialist, said on July 26 that micronutrient supplementation is a priority in the national plan to expedite the enhancing nutrients in Cambodia. Maternal malnutrition is a major determinant of poor pregnancy outcomes.

“Maternal malnutrition not only increases the risk of maternal disease and death, but also the risk of giving birth to a low birth weight baby, which leads to long-term negative consequences, from stunted growth and poor development in childhood to adolescent chronic diseases,” she said.