Following in the footsteps of Punjab and Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) is soon to present the ‘Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill 2013’ to the assembly.
K-P Health Sector Reforms Unit (HSRU) chief Dr Shabina Raza told The Express Tribune on Saturday the bill has been finalised by the health department and is being discussed with various stakeholders. After which, the bill will be sent for vetting to the law department before it is presented to the assembly.
According to Dr Raza, the intended legislation would empower drug inspectors to monitor doctors and pharmacists and keep a strict check in order to prevent them from promoting the use of alternatives to breast milk.
“Many countries have placed a ban on the use of formula for feeding babies. However, nearly 40 companies in Pakistan are still selling such products,” she said.
HSRU has also prepared a Food Safety Authority Bill which is with the chief minister (CM) for consideration. Once it has been approved by the CM, “it will also be presented to the K-P Assembly.” Dr Raza added inspection teams would be devised at the provincial level to check the standard and distribution of food items and products.
According to the National Nutrition Survey 2011, the province faces an extensive nutrition challenge. K-P has a dangerously high rate of nutritional stunting among children under the age of five: 47.8%. In comparison, the national average stands at 43.7%.
Meanwhile, infant nutrition was one of the central topics at the second meeting of the Department of Health Services Technical Advisory Group this year in the provincial capital on Wednesday.
“Nutrition was never considered a priority area but we now know health interventions alone cannot deal with the issue of malnutrition,” commented Save the Children Advocacy and Child Rights Governance Director Arshad Mahmood.
He highlighted the importance of having an integrated nutrition strategy with proper budgetary allocation.
Facilitating the law
In order to implement the impending law on breastfeeding and child nutrition, Advocacy and Advisory Network for Newborn (AANN) Provincial President Professor Dr Gohar Rehman recommended the formation of district infant feeding boards. These would help in the efficient and comprehensive implementation at the local level. The media along with health professionals can play a prominent role in promoting breastfeeding, added Dr Rehman.
Abysmal state of immunisation
Maternal and child health in K-P was not up to mark, said Save the Children Pakistan Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (MNCH) Specialist Dr Asma Badar. According to Dr Badar, the population of the province which falls in a low income group has a vaccination rate of 40%.
“There is a need to focus on universal immunisation coverage. There is a lack of vaccinators, especially women.”
Currently 12,893 Lady Health Workers (LHWs) are working in the province even though there are 13,271 designated posts. “Around 16,778 LHWs are required to cover the entire rural population which constitutes 82% of K-P,” shared Dr Badar.
Dr Qaisar Ali from the provincial health department explained to the participants the Integrated PC1 focusing on nutrition, LHWs programme, MNCH programme and Expanded Programme on Immunisation worth Rs17.7 billion is in the final stage of approval.
Religious scholar Qari Roohullah Madani also insisted there was a dire need to create awareness about breastfeeding, adding Islam also emphasises on it.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2013.