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Children in refugee camp along Thai border. Photo: TBC

TBC launches new methods to stop stunting amongst children

Four children out of ten, living in the refugee camps along the Thai border, suffer from stunting. Diakonia’s partner organization The Border Consortium, TBC, is launching a new method of combatting the problem. "It’s not enough to just provide supplementary food to the children in the camps, if we want to reduce the high rates of stunting in the camps we also need to educate the communities on nutrition," says Renata Coccaro, programme development manager at TBC.


TBC has been working in the nine refugee camps along the Thai border for several years, addressing the issue of stunting among children less than 5 years of age. Earlier this year TBC along with the International Rescue Committee, IRC, conducted a study on “Improving Nutrition and Health Service Delivery in Refugee Camps along the Thailand – Burma/Myanmar Border”.

A number of gaps

The study identified a number of gaps in the nutrition services provision, for example the general knowledge about nutrition and food groups is very low among the communities, very few mothers practiced exclusive breastfeeding up to six months after birth, and the knowledge about complementary diets and family planning activities was poor. At the same time families follow traditional feeding practices which are harmful to the children.

"I gave only rice to my baby for up to one year", said one of the respondents in the study.

Stunting - shortness - results from sub-optimal nutrition and care practices, most often occurring between gestation and 2 years of age. Stunted children are more likely to be ill or die; have poorer learning capacity; become less productive adults. Because stunting is strongly linked to the ability to learn, it also negatively affects national development. New evidence highlights stunting as a major public health issue - one that often goes unrecognized. There is growing consensus that addressing stunting is a high priority to reduce the global burden of disease and foster economic development of low income countries.

The program: ‘Healthy Babies’ has now been designed based on all the information from previous nutrition surveys, the recent study supported by IRC, plus feedback from the field staff, which indicate that a key strategy to combat malnutrition is to conduct nutrition education campaigns targeting the camp communities and leaderships.  

"Nutrition education will also have far-reaching impacts as these families and refugee leaders will be able to share the acquired knowledge in the future, in the communities they go back to," says Renata Coccaro.

Slowly changing

Recent reforms in Myanmar have raised the possibility of refugees returning during the next few years. However the peace process remains fragile and the Governments of both Thailand and Myanmar acknowledge that conditions are not yet conducive to promote the return of displaced persons. It will take time before there can be voluntary repatriation in safety and with dignity. Until such time TBC remains committed to ensuring that basic services to the refugees in camps are maintained. With the reduced rations and potential changes in Myanmar, it is more important than ever to scale up nutritional and educational support to ensure children are able to develop into healthy adults.

"The world is watching the changes in Myanmar and hoping for peace, and it is more important than ever to ensure all refugees are able to return with healthy children, strengthened knowledge and positive behaviours to share with their communities, rebuilding their lives and those of future generations," says Renata Coccaro.