Pakistan can address chronic malnutrition by engaging stakeholders in multiple sectors, including health, agriculture, social protection, education as well as civil society organisations.
This was the crux of a discussion on “The Role of Private Sector in addressing Malnutrition in Pakistan,” held on Monday at a local hotel.
The participants were of the view that the government alone cannot address malnutrition which is responsible for two per cent loss in the gross domestic product.
They said that the private sector, in particular, had an important role to play in the food chain, in producing basic food as well as micronutrient and therapeutic food supplements, in promoting hygiene, food fortification and in effecting behavioural change efforts through the media.
Director Nutrition Dr Baseer Achakzai at the Ministry of Health Services, Coordination and Regulation said all development partners had set their own agendas and were working in isolation. Added to that, provincial governments did not agree with the centre on taking out loans to address malnutrition, mainly because the issue did not figure on the priority list of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as they were more focused on education and security, he stated.
Munir Hussain Zia, research and coordinator at Fauji Fertilizer, Rawalpindi, said core issues at the grass-roots level should be addressed. “Due to intensive cropping over several decades and low content of organic matter, the soil has become deficient in essential micronutrients such as zinc, iron and iodine.”
It is estimated that 70 per cent soil is deficient in zinc, while on an average there is 0.7 microgram (mg) iodine per kilogram (kg) of soil which is far below the world average of 3.0 mg per kg soil, he stated.
“Wheat grown in nutrient-deficient soil is capable of supplying only three3 mg iodine per day against the daily recommended intake of 150 mg.” Since 90 per cent of the country’s population consumes wheat to meet 75 per cent of body calorific value, iodine intake through wheat flour is alarmingly low, he added.
“Nearly all farmers use commercial fertilisers to enhance crop yields. Micronutrient-coated fertilisers will help to eradicate microelements’ deficiency in soils, resulting in crops rich in these micronutrients.”
Shujaat Zaidi, senior social scientist at Aga Khan, said Pakistani women and children suffer from some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world with a national nutritional stunting prevalence among children under five of 43.7 per cent.
Pakistan also has the second highest number of severely wasted children next to India, he added. “More than half of the world’s malnourished women and children live in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.” If we want to address issues of malnutrition we will have to take long-term sustained initiatives including food security, child protection and gender dynamics,” he added. Micronutrient Initiative Country Director Dr Tausif Akhter Janjua said that education can play an important role in raising awareness about healthy foods.
“Micronutrient-fortified food can be provided to children and adolescent girls who attend schools, while nutrition and hygiene education can be included in the syllabus,” he suggested.
The event was organised by Save the Children.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2013.
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