THE quality of nutrition is of critical importance to the quality of an individual’s life and, by extension, what he or she can contribute to society as a whole. A government report in 2017 estimated that Pakistan lost $7.6bn, or 3pc of its GDP, each year due to malnutrition. It is not a moment too soon, therefore, that a countrywide nutrition survey has been launched by the health ministry. The study will seek to deduce how much progress Pakistan has made on improving the nutritional status of women and children, food security and household water quality over the past six years since the first such survey was carried out. That study had produced some dire results, among them that 44pc of children in Pakistan are stunted and that more than half the households face hunger or the threat of hunger. It had also revealed massive deficiencies of micro-nutrients among women. Organised on a district-wise pattern, the latest survey will take 13 months to complete, with teams gathering information from 115,500 households, going from door to door in villages, towns and cities across the country.
The result of such an exhaustive exercise will be invaluable in planning policy and designing targeted health interventions. But the next logical step is to enhance the outlay on nutrition. For a country that is, according to its power elite, poised on the cusp of a ‘game changer’, it is abominable that the government spends only 3.7pc of its GDP on nutrition, the lowest in Asia. Human rights and the duty of the state aside, such an inequitable distribution of resources has consequences that span generations and hobble a country’s progress. Women with anaemia and other nutrition-related health complications are not only at greater risk of dying in childbirth; they also bear underweight children, who are at a disadvantage in physical and cognitive development throughout their lives. Once the fact-finding is done, attention must turn to a more rational allocation of funds for nutrition.
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2018