In Vietnam, one out of every three children is stunted – and in more rural provinces, the rates are much higher than the national average, according to Vietnam’s National Institute of Nutrition. It is both a financial and human resource challenge for the Government of Vietnam to reach populations including ethnic minorities in areas with critical nutrition services.
Thankfully, there are champions like Dr. Anh Vu Nguyen, who is a passionate, tireless advocate for nutrition in Vietnam. After training and working as a general medical doctor for 10 years, it became clear to Vu after working on community based approaches to maternal and child health that nutrition was not receiving the attention it deserved – so he began to focus his career on the issue.
Since 2010, as the National Coordinator for Health for World Vision Vietnam, he has successfully facilitated the rapid scale up of ‘nutrition clubs,’ an integrated, community-based, sustainable approach to address child malnutrition. Today, there are 521 Nutrition Clubs across 14 provinces, reaching approximately 17,000 children under the age of 5.
The nutrition club approach involves mobilizing communities around child nutrition issues; strengthening the capacity of local development committees at district, community and village level to manage, supervise and evaluate nutrition clubs; leveraging local resources and linking caregivers of children under 5 years old to opportunities for improved livelihoods and economic development. Nutrition club meetings are held twice per month at village level, facilitated by community workers. Evaluations of the nutrition club model have demonstrated an increase in the knowledge of nutrition care among mothers, and a demonstrated reduction in malnutrition rates in the provinces where there are nutrition clubs as compared to those without clubs. And by conducting regular growth monitoring at the nutrition clubs and providing additional support for families with malnourished children through home visits, severe malnutrition is more easily identified and treated, a result that Dr. Vu considers to be a key achievement.
The short-term benefits of nutrition clubs include increased capacity and awareness at the community level for preventing and managing child malnutrition. The long-term benefit is a community-based, integrated, sustainable approach to improving nutrition in the hardest to reach and most vulnerable populations.
Dr. Vu has an ambitious vision for scaling up the nutrition club model, and he closely collaborates with the National Institute of Nutrition to advocate for the nutrition club approach and to develop nutrition guidelines, training materials and tools to prevent and manage child malnutrition.
Dr. Vu is eager to share his experiences and successes with others, noting that as a global community, “We must do more to exchange experiences and create opportunities for more learning and sharing across countries.”