LAHORE: Speakers at the launch of a Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) Movement in Pakistan on Monday highlighted that malnutrition levels in the country were among the worst in the world.
The percentage of children suffering from stunted growth in the country was third highest in the world, said Micro-nutrient Initiaves (MI) Country Director Tausif Akhtar Janjua.
He said stunted growth had been observed in around 9.6 million (45 per cent) children.
Another 15.1 per cent children among the population were suffering from acute malnutrition, he said.
Janjua said it was high time the government devised a plan to improve the national nutrition indicators.
The ceremony was held at the committee room of the Planning and Development (P&D) Board.
Labour and Human Resources Minister Raja Ashfaq Sarwar was also present at the occasion. He said that an estimated three to four percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) was lost every year because of high levels of iron-, iodine- and protein-deficiency in the population.
The minister lamented that not enough attention had been paid in the past to improving nutrition levels.
He said the findings of a 2011 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) suggested that core mother-and-child nutrition indicators had improved by only a small degree over the previous decade. He said improvements were noted in percentage of underweight children and in use of iodised salt. The percentage of children found underweight had decreased from 42 percent in 2001 to 31.5 percent in 2011. As many as 69.1 per cent of the households surveyed in 2011 were found using iodised salt compared to 17 per cent in 2001.
The minister said the percentage of children with stunted growth had increased over the decade. Stunted growth was observed in 43.7 percent children (below five years of age) covered in the 2011 survey compared to 41.6 per cent in 2001.
He said iron deficiency (anemia) was found in 61.9 percent of respondents, zinc deficiency in 39.2 percent and Vitamin D deficiency in 40 percent.
The percentage of children found deficient in Vitamin A was more than that observed in the previous survey.
The minister assured the gathering that the provincial government was working on a plan to fix the problem. “I hope the SUN movement and the multi-sector nutrition strategy initiative will help us improve nutrition levels in the province,” he said.
Parliamentary Sectary for Health Khawaja Imran Nazir called upon political parties to help make the SUN movement popular in their communities. He also stressed the need for enactment of laws to raise nutrition levels in the province.
Provincial Assembly Member (MPA) Saira Iftikhar assured the gathering that the provincial assembly would fully cooperate with efforts to raise nutrition levels in the province. However, she said, the extent of the crisis required concerted efforts in coordination with the civil society including national and international non-government organisations (NGOs), the private sector, educational institutes as well as community-based organisations (CBOs).
Planning and Development Board chairman Jahanzaib Khan later briefed the participants on the road map for the Scaling-up-Nutrition movement.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2016.