ISLAMABAD: Considering the lack of accurate data on the state of malnutrition in the country, the Ministry of Health has launched the National Nutrition Survey.
The survey which will cover mothers, children under the age of five and elderly people will be conducted in the twin cities in March.
“It will help us get baseline indicators on the malnutrition condition in the country and will help chalk out a future plan to overcome it,” said Dr Baseer Achakzai, National Program Manager Nutrition Wing of Ministry of Health.
While talking to The Express Tribune, he said the health ministry lacks updated statistics on nutrition as the last national survey was conducted in 2001-02.
Sharing the details, he said about 30,000 houses across the nation would be covered and blood samples of mothers within the reproductive age (15-49 years), children up to five years, and elderly persons above 50 will be collected for the assessment of their micronutrient status mainly Iron, Vitamin-A, Zinc, Vitamin-D and Calcium, along with their body weight.
“Result of these blood samples will give a clear picture about the micronutrient deficiencies they are facing and also about their dietary habits,” he said.
Besides this, child feeding and care practices, including exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding rate, data collection on food intake and food security and socio-economic and cultural variables, including income and education, will also be covered. The result will be complied and announced by July 2011.
Department for International Development (DFID) is providing financial assistance for the survey which is $1.2 million and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing technical assistance.
Dr Achakzai said it is estimated that currently 37 per cent of lactating mothers in our country are anaemic and 50 per cent of the children under five are malnourished.
“During the recent floods, the ministry faced serious difficulties due to the non-availability of updated data on children under five for rehabilitation and estimating the exact death toll,” he added.
According to the documents obtained by The Express Tribune from the Ministry of Health, Pakistan suffers from high rates of childhood malnutrition, with 38 per cent of children under five being under-weight and 12.3 per cent severely under-weight. Over the last two decades, little progress has been made over the issue.
The burden of malnutrition is higher than in sub-Sarahan Africa. Despite efforts to address the issue, the government has not been able to bring about positive improvement. “This is because there is a confusion of roles and responsibilities within the ministry. Plus there is a lack of technical expertise and funds,” said an official.
To overcome these issues, the government has requested development partners and technical agencies to support formulating a nutrition programme that would be made on ‘lessons learnt from the past’. “It will have scientific evidences and practical real world considerations,” he added.
Health experts are of the view that malnutrition is one of the major causes behind poor health conditions of the people of Pakistan as it weakens the immune system.
Talking to the Express Tribune, Dr Anis Kausar, Joint Executive Director Polyclinic Hospital, said for an average person, a balanced diet includes one egg, one glass of milk, fresh fruits and vegetables along with chicken.
“But due to poverty and lack of awareness people are unable to include this in their regular diet,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2011.