OVER the last two decades most of South Asia has witnessed progress in human development. More children are in school, people are living longer, and there is greater access to basic social services. That said, countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan rank low on human development indicators because of severe neglect of public health and education, according to Health in South Asia, a collection of analyses launched recently in Delhi. Examining rising infant mortality, vulnerability to infectious diseases and the poor capacity to respond to outbreaks, this research finds that the level of preparedness is inadequate to protect public health in South Asia — home to a quarter of the world’s population. The findings are no secret especially in countries where extreme poverty, child deaths, stunted development and limited future productivity have hampered progress. Noting that Afghanistan has the highest fertility rate followed by Pakistan, the work underscores the need for governments to invest in early childhood years through quality schooling, nutrition and healthcare. In Pakistan alone, 800,000 children die annually, more than 35pc from malnutrition. Regrettably, even such grim statistics fail to jolt our government’s conscience. For starters, with the population growing at the annual rate of almost 2pc, the government must campaign for smaller families with greater vigour across the country, and invest in accelerated family planning and female literacy to lower the fertility rate. With its pulse on economic development policies, the PML-N surely realises that investment and sound policies in health, education and good governance are the only way to create a quality workforce.
It is unacceptable that, regionally, Pakistan has the highest rate of infant mortality when the government is obligated to implement policy changes having signed up to the SDGs. Moreover, the World Bank has said it will name and shame countries before potential investors for failing to tackle stunting. When children die of hunger the lack of government action and outrage is a stain on our collective conscience. What are the authorities doing to alleviate the suffering of 400,000 starving children in Thar as reported in this paper? Even with international food fortification assistance to the tune of over $1m, malnutrition has unforgivably burgeoned. Our government should heed Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s theory: investing in people and in the grey matter of our children is the way to growth.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2017