Saturday, November 12, 2016

Threat of a malnourished, underachieving generation of Pakistanis calls for simple accelerated actions

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Malnutrition has a lifelong effect on Pakistan’s children and adults and severe consequences for the economy, experts opined at the launch of the Global Nutrition Report 2016 and in the subsequent discussion on policy responses to the country’s nutrition crisis.

The seminar on Towards Sustainable Nutrition in Pakistan: Unlocking Barriers focused on identifying multi-sectoral interventions that could help reduce malnutrition and nurture future generations. 

The speakers called for simple accelerated actions to improve the quality of life and to meet commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Goals 2 and 3 on ending hunger, and ensuring healthy lives and well being for all ages. 

“Inadequate access to nutrition in the first few years of a child’s life results in irreversible neurological and physical effects, diminished mental ability and learning capacity, increased vulnerability to deadly diseases as well as lower work productivity and earning capacity as adults,” Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta, Aga Khan University’s Founding Director of the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health and a member of the Independent Expert Group which produced the Global Nutrition Report 2016, observed. 

“Worse, girls, who are malnourished in their early years, are more likely to give birth to underweight children meaning that these health problems have a multi-generational impact. This is why stakeholders need to focus on early, high-impact interventions and preventive strategies,” he added. 

The speakers at the event noted that many factors are contributing to Pakistan’s nutrition crisis which calls for a multi-sectoral approach to the problem. 

They noted that reaching these vulnerable people requires interventions that take into account factors such as gender, socioeconomic status and regional inequalities.

“The menu of multi-sectorial interventions is still being debated, yet to be financed and implemented in Pakistan. Lessons are particularly needed in agriculture and livestock, water and sanitation, pulling in the private sector market, single cohesive leadership and specialized technical assistance,” Dr Shehla Zaidi, Director, Graduate Programme for Health Policy and Management, AKU, commented. 

Altaf Bijarani, Secretary, Planning and Development Department, Government of Sindh, used the occasion to express the government’s commitment to root out malnutrition and stunting in the province. Findings from the Global Nutrition Report highlighted that other countries in SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) have a faster stunting reduction rate as compared to Pakistan. 

“Malnutrition is a condition that directly affects one in three people. The economic consequences represent losses of 11 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year in Africa and Asia, whereas preventing malnutrition delivers $16 in returns on investment for every $1 spent. The world’s countries have agreed on targets for nutrition, but despite some progress in recent years the world is off track to reach those targets,” the report stated. 

The other speakers, in person and via video links, included Inam ul Haq and Sylvia Kauffman from the World Bank, Charlotte Dufour from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Mahbubur Rehman from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, and Azra Pechuho and Shahnaz Wazir Ali from the Oversight Committee on Primary Health Care and Polio, Government of Sindh. 

The event was organized by the AKU in collaboration with the Planning Commission of Pakistan, the International Food Policy Research Institute and Palladium.