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Accelerated Nutrition Actions for Human Capital Development

June 26, 2024
The Lao Prime Minister chairs the First Lao PDR Human Capital Summit

Lao Prime Minister Sonexay Sphandone chairs the First Lao PDR Human Capital Summit in May 2023  

World Bank / Aiden Glendinning

Second Lao PDR Human Capital Summit Logo in Lao and English. Tagline is

A healthy, educated, and productive population is essential to the growth of all countries. While the Lao PDR has one of the youngest populations in Asia, it also has one of the highest malnutrition rates, meaning that it may not be able to put this “demographic dividend” to its advantage.

Human capital is the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate throughout their lives, enabling them to reach their potential as productive members of society. Nutrition is a cornerstone of human capital development and the basis of a strong and resilient economy. While the Lao PDR has taken remarkable strides in the battle against malnutrition, progress has recently slowed or reversed for some indicators.

A third of Lao children under five are stunted, meaning they have impaired growth and development due to chronic malnutrition. Additionally, over 10% are wasted, meaning they are too thin for their height. Without proper diets, services, and care, children's brains and bodies do not develop properly. This hampers their school performance and reduces their lifetime earnings. These children are also more prone to illness and death. In fact, children suffering from severe wasting are over 11 times more likely to die than well-nourished children.

The Second Lao Human Capital Summit will seek agreement on how the country can advance on its current efforts to reduce malnutrition and thereby contribute to poverty reduction and economic growth.

Investing in nutrition is fundamental to economic growth and national prosperity. Malnutrition until the age of two can lead to impaired growth, which is associated with adverse functional consequences including poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages, lost productivity and, when accompanied by excessive weight gain later in childhood, an increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adult life.

The Lao Human Capital Agenda champions human capital as a growth strategy for the country. A child born in the Lao PDR today will be only 46% as productive when she grows up as she could be if she enjoyed complete education and full health and wellbeing. This is lower than the averages for the East Asia and Pacific region and for lower-middle-income countries.

Human capital ― the knowledge, skills and health needed for boosting productivity — is the most important form of capital for the economic growth and development of the country. World Bank reports show that about 57% of the total capital wealth of Laos comprises human capital, with natural capital accounting for 26%, and produced capital just under 17%.

For this human capital to reach its full potential a society must build early, investing in the formative years of life for every citizen. By providing basic health care, adequate nutrition, clean water and sanitation, and access to quality education, a country can offer all its people the chance to develop to their highest capacity. This is the most efficient way to make sustained and equitable progress.

However, investment in developing this human capital, especially in nutrition, is currently insufficient and dwindling. Malnutrition has adversely affected the development of human capital among young Lao people. Improving the nutritional status of women and young children requires investment in different sectors through a minimum package of essential nutrition services at household level, ensuring that every child can benefit from nutrition-related services and interventions that are robustly monitored, with clear measurements of success.

Global evidence shows that for every dollar invested in nutrition, a country gains $16 in return. This summit aims to:

  • Agree to focus on improved service delivery through the convergence of essential services at household level to ensure that every child can benefit from a minimum package of nutrition related services and interventions.
  • Agree on the need to invest and use resources effectively to address nutrition related challenges, and better track investments in nutrition.
  • Agree on the structure needed to coordinate efforts that ensure accelerated delivery and impact.
  • Learn from the experience of other countries.
  • Commit to and plan for enhanced efforts across sectors.