Malnutrition costs Pakistan $7.6b per year, study

Published: March 1, 2017

ISLAMABAD: A cumulative  effect of lost manpower hours, healthcare expenses and lower productivity due to malnutrition in monetary terms in Pakistan is  $7.6 billion – or around thee per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – every year, a new study said on Tuesday.

Launched by the Pakistan Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Secretariat at the Ministry of Planning Development and Reform, in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday, the report said that malnutrition was pegging back the country’s economy.

The report, “The Economic Consequences of Under-nutrition in Pakistan: An Assessment of Losses”, used data from the National Nutrition Survey of 2011 and the Pakistan Demographic Graphic Survey of 2013 and applied economic modelling to review 15 key nutrition indicators to calculate the cost.

The study reveals that over 177,000 children die every year in Pakistan before their fifth birthday because they, or their mother, are malnourished.

Health concern: Malnutrition plaguing country, says experts

The value of this lost future workforce, the study estimated, was around $2.24 billion annually.

Moreover, the study said that over 90 million cases of diarrhoea and respiratory infection, attributed to poor breastfeeding practices and zinc deficiencies, are reported among children each year. The costs to treat these diseases is more than a billion dollars annually, the report says.

Stunting, anaemia or iodine deficiencies in over two-thirds of children in the country cause deficits in mental and physical development, leading to lower school performance and lower productivity as adults. Such lost potential costs the country $3.7 billion annually.

Furthermore, with over 10 million anaemic adults in the country experiencing chronic weakness and fatigue, the economic output in industry, agriculture and other manual jobs falls, costing the country over $657 million annually.

“Malnutrition is a heavy burden – both for the mother of a weak baby, but also for the economy of Pakistan,” said WFP Deputy Country Director Stephen Gluning.

“Each time a malnourished child is born to a malnourished mother, the burden grows.”

However, Gluning was optimistic about the possibility of reducing this burden and overcome the consequences of malnutrition. “But we need to work together. We need to work with local communities, and we need to scale up our interventions for maximum impact,” he added. Federal Minister for Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Bosan, though, assured that the government was taking steps to mitigate the situation.

“ It is quite obvious that one ministry alone cannot bring major change, but assistance is needed from all sectors and joint efforts from the government, development partners, particularly the civil society, to achieve significant success.”

Professor Ahsan Iqbal, minister for Planning Development and Reform, said “we need knowledgeable, creative and highly cognitive, as well as innovative manpower to implement our high efficiency economic development programmes that can only be done by ensuring food and nutrition security”.

Separately, the economic impact of malnutrition was discussed during a training workshop organised by SUN Civil Society Alliance Pakistan (SUNCSA-Pak) with support of Micronutrient Initiative (MI).

Highlighting issues: 40% of Pakistan’s population malnourished

“Civil society organisations have a key role in awareness raising, behaviour change communication as well as advocacy to increase budgetary allocations for nutrition,” stated Dr Naseer Nizamani, Country Director for MI. He added that multi-sectoral approach was a sustainable solution to address malnutrition, however investment on high impact interventions were needed.

“Pakistan cannot afford to sustain this drain on the economy,” asserted Irshad Danish, the national programme manager at SUNCSA-Pak.

“Examples [from other countries] show that improved nutrition improves growth,” he said, adding that unless this situation changes, Pakistan risks suffering from a ‘demographic nightmare’ of a growing unskilled, economically unproductive population, rather than the ‘demographic dividend’ which had powered its neighbours.

Investing in ending malnutrition is one of the most cost-effective steps governments can take: every dollar invested in proven nutrition programmes offer benefits worth $16, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2017.          

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