Nearly 13 per cent children between the ages of two and five years suffered from some form of functional disability, revealed the National Nutrition Survey 2018 launched on Tuesday.
It further pointed out that one in every eight adolescent girls, and one in every five adolescent boys were underweight. Over half of the adolescent girls in Pakistan were anaemic, whereas women of reproductive age in Pakistan also endured a triple burden of malnutrition.
Fourteen per cent of them were undernourished, which reflects an improvement compared to 18 per cent in 2011. However, overweight and obesity has increased from 28% in 2011 to 38% in 2018.
These statistics were highlighted by Nutrition Programme Director at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (MNHSRC) Dr Baseer Achakzai while speaking about the survey at its launch.
According to the NNS 2018, four out of 10 children under the age of five years are stunted - a four per cent decrease since the last survey conducted in 2011.
Moreover, the survey found out that nearly two out of every 10 children under five years of age suffer from wasting – a condition that causes a person or part of a body to grow progressively weaker or emaciated.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, while speaking on the occasion, said malnutrition in Pakistan was at the forefront of the government's agenda.
The SAPM added that on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the health ministry was continuously engaged in efforts to address the issue of malnutrition. He also highlighted the importance of cascading high-level commitments into policies that benefit the masses.
“On PM’s special directives, the MNHSRC is leading in inter-sectoral coordination and advocacy as well as policy and planning for nutrition in the country,” he added. “For this purpose, a Nutrition Advisory Group has also been constituted which would provide technical oversight and guidance on nutrition policy and programming,” Dr Sultan informed.
He further added that the findings of the nutrition survey were very concerning for the government. Women and children in the country were far below the acceptable levels of nutrition, and this alarming situation requires urgent attention, he added.
“For actionable plans and progress towards the SDGs, food security, and ending malnutrition, we have to develop district-specific and region-specific strategies,” the SAPM stated. “With a dataset as comprehensive as NNS 2018, we are on the right track,” claimed the expert.
Partnerships of individuals and institutions on both micro and macro levels would bear fruits for what the ministry had been striving for since decades, he added.
British High Commission Deputy Director Development Jim Carpy said that the United Kingdom (UK) was proud to support the important initiative to assess the nutritional needs in Pakistan.
“The results of this survey will help us in tackling the issue of malnutrition by targeting those most affected, including children under 5, adolescent girls and pregnant women,” Carpy added.
United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) representative in Pakistan Aida Girma said, on the occasion, that NNS 2018 was a wake-up call to a clear and present emergency.
“The country confronts a triple burden of malnutrition affecting young children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women,” Girma said. “A clear indication that nutrition in Pakistan requires high-level attention and adequate funding to reduce mortality due to malnutrition and to ensure that every child reaches her/his full development potential in life,” she added.
Aga Khan University Centre of Excellence in Women & Child Health Founding Director Professor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutta said that Pakistan was facing massive challenges in that maternal and child nutrition was no longer news.
“After 2010 floods and the National Nutrition Survey 2011, effective actions on many issues like childhood stunting, wasting and widespread micronutrient deficiencies lacked,” Prof Bhutta stated.
Federal Health Director-General Malik Safi also spoke at the event. The event was attended by high-ranking government officials, including secretaries of the provincial health ministries, DGs, MNHSRC and other officials of the federal and provincial governments.
Civil society members, media persons, officials of the United Nations and other national and international organisations also participated in the event via a virtual link.
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