After a two-year delay, the Planning Commission of Pakistan launched the National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011, at a ceremony on Tuesday.
The findings of the NNS-2011, launched in collaboration with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, reveal that 58.1 per cent of households are food insecure and only three per cent of children receive a diet that meets the minimum standards of dietary diversity. Just three countries account for half of malnourished women and children globally and Pakistan is one of them, stated the report. “Major factors leading to chronic malnutrition in the country are poverty, high illiteracy rates among mothers and food insecurity.”
However, the findings of the NNS 2011 indicate a slight improvement since 2001 in terms of core maternal and childhood nutrition indicators which have profound effect on children’s immunity, growth and mental development.
The NNS-2011 shows that there has been a slight improvement in the rates of malnutrition in children under-five determined over the past decade, after assessing their anthropometry (measurement of the human individual) status, but the current statistics are nevertheless alarming. According to the study, the stunting rate among children under the age of five years has increased from 41.6 per cent in 2001 to 43.7 per cent in 2011, the wasting percentage has increased from 14.3 per cent in 2001 to 15.1 per cent in 2011. There has been no change in the percentage of underweight children since 2001, which is 31.5 per cent.
Massive micronutrient deficiencies were found in women. Some 51 per cent of pregnant women were anaemic, 46 per cent suffered from vitamin A deficiency, 47.6 per cent from zinc deficiency and 68.9 per cent from vitamin D deficiency. The incidence of malnutrition was only slightly lower among non-pregnant women --- 50.4 per cent of whom were anaemic, 41.3 per cent had vitamin A deficiency, and 66.8 per cent had vitamin D deficiency.
The data revealed that around 53.9per cent of the elderly population did not have normal weight, they were either under or overweight. Among them 15.8 per cent were thin, 24.2 per cent overweight and 13.9 per cent were obese.
NNS 2011 data reveals that 40.5 per cent mothers breastfed their children within one hour of birth, while 77.3 per cent mothers continued breastfeeding children up to 12-15 months. The data indicates that 63.5 per cent of mothers predominantly breastfed children till the first six months. In Islamabad, exclusive breastfeeding among educated families hovered around 37 per cent, which is very low.
Meanwhile, talking to The Express Tribune, an official working in the nutrition department, requesting anonymity said, “The government’s non-serious attitude had delayed the launch of this very important document.” International donors have also voiced concerns over the delay, he added. “After the devolution of the Ministry of Health under the 18th Amendment, the nutrition department became fully functional again only in mid-2013 when it came under the Ministry of National Health Services.”
Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing the launching ceremony of the NNS-2011 said that these startling findings are compelling to impose nutrition emergency in the country.
He also said that soon a national task force will be constituted to address malnutrition issues in the country.
Nutrition Wing Director General Dr Baseer Achakzai said international donors were waiting for the official launch of the NNS-2011 to initiate a dialogue with the government to develop nutrition programmes keeping in view the country’s acute malnutrition status.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2013.
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