A stunted nutrition programme

In his victory speech after the July 25 elections, Prime Minister Imran Khan mentioned the prevalence of stunting, wasting and malnutrition among Pakistani children. This was to become a frequent theme and the subject appeared close to his heart. Hopes were raised that his government would make remedial measures in this regard a priority. Now it has emerged that after eight months in power, the government has yet to take a concrete action on this front. Worse still, a Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Centre (MSNC), a programme to address stunting and wasting in the Punjab, launched by the previous government without much fanfare, is on the verge of closure as the provincial Planning and Development Board has not renewed employemnt contracts of its district coordinators and sector specialists in 11 south Punjab districts, where the programme was piloted.

The four-year MSNC programme was launched at a cost of Rs 550 million to move forward the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy of 2015 to come up with a single platform for inter-sectoral planning around nutrition. Since its inception in 2018 it had been addressing the incidence of high malnutrition and stunting in the targeted districts.

Letters written to the Board by deputy commissioners of Layyah and Rajanpur vouch for the effectiveness of the programme. In Layyah, where according to a 2014 survey, the incidence of malnutrition among children was the highest, with 38.8 per cent of children sufffering from stunted growth and 18.9 wasting; the percentages fell to 29.6 per cent and and 7 per cent, respectively.

In Rajanpur, where stunting rate had been 47.6 per cent and wasting 8.7 per cent, the malnutrition was all buteradicated and the district became a model for effective intrevention.

The success of the pilot programme can only be attribted to the relentless efforts of the project staff, who have now been given their marching orders. The government clearly needs to review its decision and launch the programme with renewed vigor. In fact, the effectiveness of the programme should encourage the government to extend it beyond the southern districts where the pilot was undertaken. Other provinces too should come up with programmes for improving child health.

The unfortunate deaths of underfed infants in Thar have become as much a political matter as a human catastrophe. The fact, however, is that malnourished children are to be found across Pakistan, most of them in rural areas.

Global studies show that there are as many as 165 million malnourished children under five years of age. Malnutrition accounts for at least half of all childhood deaths worldwide. The parents and school administrations should be made aware of the importance of adequate nutrition as academic achievement is dependent on as proper nutrition.

Only a generation of physically healthy and intellectually sound Pakistanis can turn the country into a prosperous one. *

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