ISLAMABAD, Aug 21: Every year, 800,000 children die in Pakistan and 35 per cent of these occur due to malnutrition. The risk of death is nine times higher for a child suffering from malnutrition compared to a child with a balanced diet.

This was stated by speakers at the launching ceremony of a report titled ‘the Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition in Pakistan’ on Wednesday. The report was prepared by a non government organisation Save the Children in collaboration with the Agha Khan University (AKU).

Speakers said using resources in social programmes was not expenditure; it was an investment.

Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta from AKU, an expert on nutrition, said breastfeeding should be encouraged as it decreased the chances of death in the first two years of a child.

“Unfortunately, the society does not encourage breastfeeding and day care centres for working women’s children are absent. Furthermore, people do not allow housemaids to bring their babies along, and hence their children are not well fed,” he said.

Dr Bhutta added that the issue of malnutrition could only be addressed by long term initiatives such as food security, child protection, empowerment of women, targeted agriculture safety nets and early childhood development programmes.

Furthermore, he said girls should be educated and should be married at a late age to reduce chances of child mortality. In Bangladesh, the population’s growth rate had reduced because of education, he added.

Dr Bhutta said all segments of the society, especially the media, government and the civil society should work in collaboration to resolve the issue of malnutrition.

Country representative of UNICEF, Dan Rohrmann, said a quarter of newborns in Pakistan weighed less than average and half the children suffered from chronic malnutrition. He said the increase in diseases reduced the nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by up to 4 per cent because the sick could not contribute to the economy.

The chief of Nutrition and Planning Commission Pakistan, Aslam Shaheen, said the guidelines highlighted in the report would be used to prepare Vision 2025 and the government’s 5 year development plan.

While addressing on the occasion, President and CEO of Save the Children, Ms Carolyn Miles, said 61 per cent children in Pakistan suffered from iron deficiency anemia, 54 per cent from Vitamin A deficiency, 40 per cent from Vitamin D deficiency and 39 per cent from zinc deficiency.

However she said children were getting proper iodine mostly likely due to iodized salt.

The report recommends the federal and provincial governments to strengthen health systems so that women had better access to skilled birth attendants. The government should also provide more funding for maternal, newborn and child health programmes, the report recommended.