Nine-month-old Thorn is clinically malnourished, but in desperately poor Cambodia he is still among the lucky ones.
His mother, Phorn Sileap, can’t afford him private medical care. She earns less than $2 each day working in the capital city Phnom Penh as a waste recycler.
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But a clinic set up in the slum area where Phorn Sileap lives has identified Thorn’s condition and he will be sent to hospital for intensive treatment.
A report in the science journal Nutrients estimates that malnutrition in Cambodia is costing the country $266m each year, said Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman, reporting from Phnom Penh.
Cambodia’s GDP is growing at more than 6.5 percent annually, the fastest in the region, but the financial burden of dealing with malnutrition is excessive for this developing country, Rahman said.
One novel approach to the country’s malnutrition problem is a new and inexpensive wafer snack, which is made from fish, rice, beans and other micronutrients developed specifically for the Cambodian palate.
Produced and packaged, a supply of the snack is given each month to parents to feed their malnourished children.
The progress of the children who are fed the wafers is recorded and measured for improvements.
“Children across the capital Phnom Penh are trying out these snacks and researchers say the initial results seem promising,” Rahman said.
Dr Frank Wieringa of the French Research Institute for Development said there are noticeable differences in children who are taking the nutrient-packed wafer.
“What we see is that the children like the food. They eat it, which is already a big help,” Wieringa told Al Jazeera.
“After three months we think we see children who are eating it [the snack] getting fatter and getting taller,” he said.
‘Not progressed as fast’
UNICEF Representative in Cambodia Debora Comini said efforts to deal with malnutrition have not progressed as fast as they could have in Cambodia.
“Progress has been quite gradual,” Comini told Al Jazeera.
“There is increased attention in national policies. For example in the national development planning there is now a specific focus on nutrition. However, if we look at the indicators, we certainly have not progressed as fast as we could have,” she said.
Government officials agree that more could be done.
Ly Sovann, director of the Ministry of Health’s communicable disease control department, said he hoped to see more cooperation to improve nutrition.
The wafer snack is a small step in the right direction, says Al Jazeera’s Rahman, noting that aid agencies have been able to help 4,500 malnourished children in the past year.
But, there are many more malnourished children who need to be helped sooner rather than later, he said.