$7 billion: The burden of malnutrition on Pakistan's economy

Lower school performance and lower productivity as adults depresses the GDP by $3.7 billion annually.
Published March 9, 2017

A new report by the Ministry of Planning Development and Reform (MPDR) claims that Pakistan loses $7.6 billion or three percent of its GDP each year due to malnutrition.

“The Economic Consequences of Undernutrition in Pakistan: An Assessment of Losses” report by the Pakistan Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Secretariat in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) used economic modeling to review 15 nutrition indicators from the 2011 National Nutrition Survey and the 2013 Pakistan Demographic Graphic Survey.

“Malnutrition is a heavy burden – both for the mother of a weak baby, but also for the economy of Pakistan. And each time a malnourished child is born to a malnourished mother, the burden grows,” says WFP Deputy Country Director Stephen Gluning.

“It is possible to reduce these inequalities and to overcome the consequences of under-nutrition, but we need to work together, we need to work at a local level, and we need to scale up our interventions for maximum impact,” Gluning added.

According to the report, more than 177,000 children die annually in Pakistan before their fifth birthday due to their or their mothers’ malnutrition.

Because this constitutes as future lost workforce, it costs the country estimated US$2.24 billion per year.

More than two-thirds of Pakistan’s children suffering from anaemia, iodine deficiencies or stunting will suffer deficits in mental and physical health, which results in lower school performance and lower productivity as adults. This depresses the GDP by $3.7 billion annually.

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Additionally, more than 90 million cases of diarrhoea and respiratory infection among children are linked to to poor breastfeeding practices and zinc deficiencies per year, which costs the healthcare systems and families greater than US$1 billion annually.

Lastly, there is an annual reduction in economic output, agriculture and other manual jobs by more than $657 million largely due to more than 10 million working adults with anaemia, suffering from chronic weakness and fatigue.

Due to the drastic statistics found in the report, the Ministry of Planning Development and Reform (MPDR) and the Health Services Regulation and Coordination are planning to review the current malnutrition programmes to to figure out existing gaps and actions to take.

“The Government of Pakistan is taking many steps towards improving the situation, but much work remains to be done to achieve food security and also improved nutrition indicators,” said Sikandar Hayat Bosan, Federal Minister for Food Security & Research.

“Assistance is needed from all sectors and joint efforts from the government, development partners, particularly the civil society, to achieve significant success.”

In order to improve the coordination, collaboration and partnerships in the fight against malnutrition, a Declaration of Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Pakistan was signed in 2013.

Various networks have been formed and are working under the leadership of the MPDR/ SUN Secretariat, linking Government, donors, UN agencies, civil societies, business community and academia, in an attempt to combat malnutrition in the country.

This article originally appeared on MIT Tech Review Pakistan and has been reproduced with permission.