The Problem

  • The small silt islands of Bangladesh, known as “chars”, are perilous havens for more than 6 million poor that are subjected to a devastating cycle of erosion, drought and severe flooding that have created severe malnutrition conditions.
  • The prevalence of malnutrition in rural Bangladesh is among the highest in the world. Women of reproductive age and children are most severely affected. The majority of households lack access to adequately diverse food and safe water.
  • A national anemia survey completed in November 2001 indicates that 23 million children and 9 million women of reproductive age in rural Bangladesh are anemic.

What HKI Is Doing

Helen Keller International began working in Bangladesh in 1978. In 1982-1983, in partnership with the Government, HKI conducted the Bangladesh Nutritional Blindness Study that provided the basis for vitamin A policy for more than 15 years. Current programs include:

Vitamin A Supplementation
In 1997, Helen Keller International and the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) conducted a national vitamin A deficiency (VAD) survey that documented the successful control of clinical vitamin A deficiency among preschool children through an effective Vitamin A Supplementation (VAS) program and successful Homestead Food Production projects. The survey also highlighted the serious problem of VAD among women, adolescent girls and school-age children in rural Bangladesh. In 2007, HKI initiated a 3-year project to provide vitamin A supplementation to children in the remote, marginalized areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. HKI also currently works with the GOB to implement National Immunization days, which include VAS.  In June 2009, 83% of the target population, or 14,000 children age 5-59 months, received vitamin A supplementation.      

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Homestead Food Production
HKI and its partners in Bangladesh create nutritional self-sufficiency through the establishment of thousands of women-tended Homestead Food Production (HFP) gardens.

Homestead Food Production improves household food security by increasing food availability, access to and consumption of micronutrient-rich foods through home gardening and poultry rearing. Not only do the gardens offer a year-round source of nutrition, but they also elevate the status of women in the chars. Today, Helen Keller International works with 52 local NGOs that establish HFP programs for 900,000 households, benefitting over 4.5 million people.

In 2009, our Homestead Food Production program in Bangladesh was selected as a case study for “Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development.” The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) initiated this research project with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Nutritional Surveillance
Since 1990, HKI has conducted quarterly nutrition and health surveillance projects in Bangladesh. Our Nutrition Surveillance Project Bulletins share findings with program planners, policy makers and other parties both within Bangladesh and internationally. The Bulletins contain timely, accurate and insightful information on issues affecting the nutrition and health of Bangladesh's most vulnerable populations.

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Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is a leading cause of blindness and a common complication that affects 50% of people with diabetes within the first 15 years of diagnosis.  Bangladesh is currently home to more than 3 million diabetics.  With the country’s diabetic population expected to reach 11 million by the year 2020, Helen Keller International is helping health care systems prepare to systematically identify and treat Diabetic Retinopathy in order to prevent blindness. In collaboration with Chittagong Eye Infirmary and Training Complex and the Diabetes Association of Bangladesh, HKI began a pilot project in 2009 to improve patients’ access to sight-saving Diabetic Retinopathy treatment regardless of their ability to pay.

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