40pc children under five years stunted in Pakistan: report

Updated 21 Oct 2020

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Nutritional status of adolescent girls and boys by locality (urban/rural).
Nutritional status of adolescent girls and boys by locality (urban/rural).

ISLAMABAD: As many as four out of 10 under five children are stunted in Pakistan while nearly 13pc of children between the age of two and five years suffer from some form of functional disability.

One in every eight adolescent girls and one in every five adolescent boys are underweight. Moreover, over half of the adolescent girls in Pakistan are anemic.

Women of reproductive age also bear the burden of malnutrition and 14pc of them are undernourished, though it reflects an improvement compared to 18pc in 2011. Overweight and obesity has increased from 28pc in 2011 to 38pc in 2018.

These findings of the National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2018 were released by Director Nutrition Programme at the Ministry of National Health Services (MHS) Dr Baseer Achakzai at a local hotel on Tuesday.

One in every eight adolescent girls and one in every five adolescent boys also found underweight

Dr Achakzai said it was the largest ever nutrition survey conducted in the country and assessed the nutrition status of 115,500 households. The survey was funded by the United Kingdom government with technical support from Unicef and carried out by Aga Khan University (AKU) led by the ministry of NHS.

“The survey shows that nearly two out of every 10 children under five also suffer from wasting,” Dr Achakzai said.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister in Health Dr Faisal Sultan said malnutrition in Pakistan remains high at the forefront of government’s agenda. On the directions of the prime minister, the ministry is endlessly engaged in efforts to address the issue of malnutrition.

“On PM’s special directives, the NHS ministry is leading in inter-sectorial coordination and advocacy as well as policy and planning for nutrition in the country. For this purpose, a nutrition advisory group has also been constituted which would provide technical oversight and guidance on nutrition policy and programming.”

He said the findings of the nutrition survey were very concerning for the government.

“Women and children in the country are far below the acceptable levels of nutrition and this alarming situation requires urgent attention. For actionable plans and progress towards SDGs, food security and ending malnutrition, we have to develop district-specific and region-specific strategies. With a data set as comprehensive as NNS 2018, we are on the right track. Individuals and institutions’ partnerships on a micro and macro level will bear the fruits we have been striving for since decades,” Dr Sultan said.

Deputy Director Development British High Commission Jim Carpy said the results of the survey will help us in tackling the issue of malnutrition by targeting those most affected, including children under five, adolescent girls and pregnant women. He said the United Kingdom will continue to work closely with Pakistan to improve maternal and child health, end preventable deaths besides ensuring adequate nutrition for all.

Aida Girma, the Unicef representative in Pakistan, said the survey findings are a wake-up call to a clear and present emergency. The country confronts a triple burden of malnutrition affecting young children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women. A clear indication that nutrition in Pakistan requires high level attention and adequate funding to reduce mortality due to malnutrition and to ensure that every child reaches their full development potential in life.

Founding Director of Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health at the AKU Prof Zulfiqar Ali Bhutta said Pakistan facing massive challenges in maternal and child nutrition was no longer a news. After 2010 floods and the National Nutrition Survey 2011, there was a lack of effective actions on many of issues like childhood stunting, wasting and widespread micronutrient deficiencies.

Dr Malik Safi, the director general health, expressed the hope that the information gathered in the survey would properly and effectively be utilised for decision making, planning and implementation of nutrition interventions.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020