Pakistan striving to eradicate malnutrition …



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Malnutrition and the neonatal ward of the government-run civilian hospital in Mithi city, Sindh province, southern Pakistan, have hundreds of child patients. One is Mukesh, a fragile and apathetic child with no signs of movement. A sign in his crib says that he is 3 years old, but he hardly seems that age.

His mother, Ragini Mehgwar, 36, gave birth to six children, but only two survived. Now, Mukesh is fighting for his life. "We are poor workers who live on daily wages, we depend on our livestock for income and we are unable to survive," said Mehgwar to DW.

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Mukesh's situation is shared by millions of other children in Pakistan. According to the National Nutrition Survey of the country for the years 2018-19, one in three children is underweight.

The study evaluated the nutritional status of 115,500 families throughout Pakistan. The main focus of data collection was on children under the age of five, adolescents and women of childbearing age.

Reasons for malnutrition

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) child growth patterns, stunting is a harmful complication of malnutrition and may simply be defined as being shorter than the average height for your age.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (ODS) require governments around the world to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition by 2030, particularly for the poor and vulnerable sectors of society, including infants.

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The results of Pakistan's national survey, however, show that no significant progress has been made on these fronts in the country. Four out of ten children under the age of five are stunted, while nearly five million children in the same age group suffer from weight loss, or low weight for their height. In total, 18% of children under the age of five suffer from waste.

Wasting is also a strong predictor of mortality among children.

The survey also showed that nearly 13% of children between the ages of two and five face some form of functional disability. In addition, one in eight adolescent girls and one in five adolescent boys were underweight, while more than half of adolescent girls were anemic.

Maternal health a factor

Ram Ratan, the medical superintendent of Mithi Hospital, has witnessed the malnutrition crisis in recent years. He said that many children in the region are victims of malnutrition and malnutrition because of the weakness of their mothers, many of whom had multiple infants without enough space between pregnancies. "Poor nutrition and dietary patterns of mothers are the leading causes of death and malnutrition in infants," he said.

This is aggravated by patriarchal culture and gender-based discrimination in Pakistan, observers say. In most families, women generally have less food to eat than their male relatives. And the cultural norm of women eating after the male family members finish their meals, just as the younger marriages also contributed to the problem.

Carrying large numbers of children from an early age not only harms women's health but also affects the well-being of the fetus and the ability to breastfeed a newborn.

"Malnutrition, for example, is one of the biggest challenges related to nutrition in Pakistan and has its roots in pregnancy when mothers do not receive adequate nutrition," he said. "Children who are born small because of poor maternal nutrition begin life with a huge disadvantage. said Aida Girma. , the country's representative to UNICEF in Pakistan, told DW.

Improving feeding practices

Addressing the problem requires nutritional intervention, Girma said. It included treatment of acute malnutrition, administration of oral rehydration salts for diarrhea, supplementation of maternal and infant micronutrients, improved feeding practices for infants and young children, including exclusive breastfeeding, introduction of minimal food diversity, and minimum acceptable diet.

In Pakistan, only 38% of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, according to UN recommendations.

"There are also nutrition-sensitive interventions that should also be emphasized, such as stopping open defecation, addressing food security, providing care giving maternal, family and community resources," Girma said.

According to the Global Nutrition Report 2018, there are 10.7 million stunted children in Pakistan. Due to widespread poverty, many families can not afford a nutritious diet with the recommended intake of protein, fat, minerals and vitamins.

Prime Minister Imran Khan's government has expressed concern about the backward growth of children in the country, which has the third highest rate of child malnutrition in the world.

Pakistan's health minister Zafar Mirza also said the federal government prioritized the nation's nutritional agenda and would work closely with the provinces for informed and effective interventions in the sector. "Hard as it may seem, we will ensure that we save our children from malnutrition," he said shortly after his ministry revealed the results of the survey.

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