Up to 60 per cent of Pakistani mothers and children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies as the country has the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate at 37.7 per cent and the highest bottle feeding rate at 41 per cent.
According to National Nutrition Survey, maternal nutrition and breastfeeding behaviour along with child underweight, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies are linked to more than 180,000 deaths annually, more than one-third of all child mortality.
The survey revealed that overall, in Pakistan 14.1% mothers are thin and 33.9% are overweight while the micronutrient deficiency levels in pregnant women are as: anaemia 51.0%, iron deficiency anaemia 37.0%, vitamin A deficiency 46.0%, zinc deficiency 47.6% and vitamin D deficiency 68.9%.
It claimed that 43.7% of children under five are stunted (chronic malnutrition), 15.1% are wasted (acute malnutrition) and 31.5% are underweight.
The micronutrient deficiencies are also widespread among children including anaemia 61.9%, iron deficiency 43.8%, vitamin A deficiency 54.0%, zinc deficiency 39.2% and vitamin D deficiency 40.0%.
The survey indicated that 14 per cent of women of reproductive age are wasted and 50.4 per cent anaemic, 21.1 per cent are overweight and 9.5 per cent obese.
National statistics indicated that almost 10 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition, 3.3 million children from acute malnutrition and 1.3 million are severely malnourished requiring therapeutic care.
Aimen Arif from Pakistan Planning and Management Institute said that the malnutrition is caused by a combination of dietary deficiencies, weak maternal and child health and nutrition care, water and sanitation issues, lack of awareness about health and nutrition issues, low literacy rate and low micronutrient content in the soil affecting immunity, growth, and mental development and performance in later years of life.
She said that one of the most severe effects of malnutrition in early childhood is stunting, or low height for age.
Stunting in early childhood is associated with a delayed start at school, reduced educational attainment, and substantially decreased adult wages when measured at both the individual and country level.
She said that cognitive deficits from childhood stunting, anaemia and iodine deficiency disorders depress future adult productivity.
Aimen Arif said that the cost of healthcare services utilization due to zinc deficiencies, low rates of breastfeeding, and low birth weight is also high.
Aimen added that malnutrition among children has disastrous effects on the physical and mental growth of the children, which hampers their productive potentials thus negatively impacting the country’s overall prospects of development.
There is now increasing awareness about the situation because of the tireless efforts of many national and international development actors, she added.
She said that with support from the federal government and development partners, various initiatives have been taken and are contributing towards national as well as international commitments.
Aimen Arif said that malnutrition is a multi-faceted issue and its solution lies in concerted efforts of diverse sectors which are engaged in multi-sectoral planning, sectoral implementation and multi-sectoral monitoring, accountability and learning.
This requires an enabling environment to shape political, institutional and policy processes for improved nutrition in the country, she added.
She said that the Ministry of Planning Development and Reform and Planning Commission of Pakistan with technical support from World Food Programme have launched Pakistan Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy (2018-25).
She said that the document has been developed through a comprehensive consultative process, involving national and sub-national level stakeholders, and is linked with the provincial Inter-Sectoral Nutrition Strategies, aligned with the Pakistan Vision 2025 and Sustainable Development Goals.-APP