Malnutrition, the silent epidemic
Malnutrition is a global dilemma that no nation can afford to ignore. This predicament prevails over Pakistan endangering the health of substantial number of mothers and children under five. The pernicious impacts of malnutrition are multifaceted; the exceeding mortalities and morbidities undermine the economic development of our country aggravating the vicious cycle of poverty.
The National Nutrition Survey 2018 (NNS) launched by joint collaboration between the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination, the Aga Khan University (AKU) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presents the scale of malnutrition in Pakistan. The survey is a milestone achieved, unique in two ways; not only is it based on the largest nutritional research carried out till date but also the data is collected at Pakistan’s lowest administrative levels.
The consistent efforts of the government along with other stakeholders has resulted in improving indicators of malnutrition. The most critical of the nutrition related problems, stunting in children has decreased by 4% over the years. An improvement of 6 points has been observed in children breast fed during first hour of birth. Moreover, the trend of anemia has declined to 53.7%. The prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies including zinc, vitamin D and iodine have also decreased and now almost four out of five households consume iodized salt. Lastly, access to sources of clean drinking water have improved in nine out of ten households.
Although the recent findings have shown a gradual progress but the complex malnutrition challenge still demands rigorous efforts. Dismally, rate of wasting is now highest in the history of Pakistan. The prevalence of overweight children under five has also doubled over seven years whereas one in every three children are underweight. All indicators of complementary feeding are far below acceptable levels. Only one in seven children aged 6–23 months receive a diverse diet. The status of women nutrition also shows a bleak picture. Women of reproductive age bear a double burden of malnutrition. The survey shows more than half of adolescent girls in Pakistan are anaemic with almost one in eight adolescent girls being underweight.
The assessment of NNS 2018 has paved way for humanitarian organizations to prioritize issues like malnutrition which are of national importance. Human Development Foundation (HDF) has been working tirelessly for mother and child wellness. The organization through its Umeed say Aagay Campaign advocates that the foundation of healthier generations can be laid only through healthy mothers. The program emphasizes on the importance of nutritional needs during the first 1000 days for mothers and child, an excellent window of opportunity for promotion of growth and development.
Despite malnutrition being a complex issue focused efforts can lead towards eradication of the problem. Human Development Foundation with its holistic model aims at providing the same multilayered interventions to solve this multifaceted issue. The model targets the crisis through multispectral approach which includes provision of primary health care, sustainable environment, economic development and women empowerment. Consequently, reducing the number of deaths in women and children that in turn will benefit the economy and ultimately development of our country.