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‘Food fortification must for healthy women, children’

Updated January 02, 2019

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Prof Dr Suleman Shiekh speaks at the Food Fortification Programme Karachi district 
launch on Tuesday.—White Star
Prof Dr Suleman Shiekh speaks at the Food Fortification Programme Karachi district launch on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: In a country where millions grapple with hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, there is a dire need for fortifying oil, ghee and flour to ensure health and vitality of the people and future generations. This was a unified consensus of stakeholders at the Karachi district launch of the Food Fortification Programme (FFP).

The event was jointly organised by the Food Fortification Programme (FFP), UK Aid and Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), with representation from the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and Trade Development Authority of Pakistan and NGOs.

According to a 2017 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 37.5 million people in Pakistan are not receiving proper nourishment.

Sharing the impact of vitamin A deficiency that leads to night blindness particularly among the poor urban and rural population, TRDP CEO Dr Allah Nawaz Samoo said food fortification was immediately needed.

Dr Samoo stressed that adding vitamins and minerals to wheat flour and edible oils would lead to disease prevention and boost immunity and improve cognitive development and productivity.

Some 37.5 million people in Pakistan are not receiving proper nourishment, says UN food agency

Talking about demand and supply trends, he said that more efforts should be made to create awareness among millers and buyers.

Data from the National Nutrition Survey 2011 shows that 60 per cent pregnant women in Pakistan were anaemic.

Some 37pc women have low iron levels, 46.7pc have vitamin A deficiency and 71pc have vitamin D deficiency while up to 44.5pc have low zinc levels.

These high levels of micronutrient deficiency not only affects the wellbeing of women, but also has lasting impact on the health of their children right from the moment they are conceived leading to premature and low birth weight babies and a vicious cycle of wasting and stunting.

“We are working on wasting and stunting which affect children but there is a dire need to focus on micronutrient deficiency and ensuring that expectant mothers have access to good food,” said Dr Naveed Bhutto, Programme Policy Officer/Lead at the Provincial Fortification Alliance (PFA) Sindh.

He stressed that Pakistan needed to work on legislation for wheat fortification to achieve results.

Citing the success of universal salt iodisation (USI) programme that was adopted by Pakistan in mid 1990s and saw a significant reduction in goitre cases, he said replication was needed.

“With the ongoing efforts, the results of the 2018 nutrition survey might not be hopeful, but things will surely improve by 2023,” he added.

President of KCCI Junaid Esmail Makda said a plant protection department should be made to check the quality of palm oil when it lands at the port.

The FFP is already working with chambers of commerce across the country to raise awareness of fortified flour and oil among millers and traders.

Dr Gul Sher, who heads the Lady Health Worker (LHW) Programme in Sindh, assured that work was being done on creating demand for fortified food. The province would be utilising the strength of its LHWs to create awareness. “We have already included FFP in our training materials,” he added.

With the discussion focused on collaborative efforts, Sindh health secretary Dr Usman Chachar highlighted the need for having academia onboard with government departments and policy makers and finding solutions for the multifaceted issue of malnutrition and stunting.

A participant stressed the need for research and development to come up with nutritionally rich varieties.

Another participant said fish and meat exports from Pakistan should be checked as exports were creating shortages in the country increasing there prices and depriving locals from having them at low rates.

What is food fortification?

Micronutrients, which are present in all natural foods, are partially lost when wheat is grounded into flour and during the processing of palm oil. In its simplest terms, food fortification is the process by which essential vitamins and minerals are added to staple foods.

According to a leaflet of FFP, “wheat flour and edible oil/ghee are consumed daily by most people and by fortifying these foods, nutritional status can change quickly — after one year of sustained consumption — without changing eating habits”.

Funded by the UK Aid and managed by Mott MacDonald in partnership with Nutrition International, FFP is a five-year programme in Pakistan which aims to equip the government to enforce mandatory legislation for fortification across the country by 2021.

It further seeks to improve standards, regulatory compliance, quality assurance and quality control.

The programme aims to improve management and administration to meet legislative requi­rem­ents, technical assistance for mixing and storage of premixes, building industry capacity for compliance and testing.

Over 1,000 wheat flour mills and 100 edible oil mills will be meeting standards.

Consumers will be aware of and positive towards the benefits of fortified foods. So far a total of five laboratories have been set up in Sindh (four in Karachi and one in Hyderabad) for quality assessment of flour and oil.

A major goal of the project is to reduce iron deficiency and anaemia by one-third and at least a one-quarter reduction in vitamin A deficiency among women and children.

In effect, births with neural tube defects are also expected to decline. FFP also seeks improvement in vitamin D deficiency in the next three years.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2019