PAKISTANI children face stunted growth due to consumption of non-nutritious foods and non-consumption of vitamins. The solution to this problem is simple and low-cost, but the authorities have decided to spend billions; half the amount will be spent on salaries, while the remaining will be spent on importing micronutrients.
Although observers have termed this project unrealistic in terms of achieving results, none of their concerns were considered while approving this high-cost project.
Pakistan has 750 pharmaceutical companies, and about 15 years ago the relevant drug regulatory authority started denying these companies their multivitamin medicine registration, citing a new policy. Currently, only 14 multinational pharmaceutical companies are allowed to manufacture multivitamins.
By simply allowing vitamin medicine registration to pharmaceutical companies across the board, one can make nutrition available to everyone without spending any state funds.
The biggest issue in stunted growth is iron deficiency in mother and children. Malaria and other viruses also increase iron deficiency. This deficiency can be removed by purchasing cheap iron supplements from 750 pharmaceuticals in Pakistan and giving them free to mothers and children. This will reduce iron deficiency without much of a cost while creating thousands of new jobs in the pharmaceutical sector.
Nutrients that are manufactured at local pharmaceuticals can be added to flour as relevant equipment has been provided to the flour mills, but the flour mills are resisting this extra work. Maybe stricter government regulations will convince them to make local flour more nutritious.
Similarly, weekly ration of fresh fruits and vegetables to poor families will improve their nutritional needs and increase local farmers’ sale and income. The families that have a house or small land can be given seeds, equipment and access to training videos to help them plant vegetables for own use at their house.
These and similar initiatives may reduce stunted growth, create more job opportunities, increase food production and local economic activities while costing much less than simply importing some product and distributing it via salaried government employees.
Shahryar Khan Baseer
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2021