On Wednesday, in its 43rd meeting, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) approved a project focused on addressing malnutrition as well as stunted growth in children in Pakistan. The project ‘Tackling Malnutrition Induced Stunting in Pakistan’ is worth 350 billion and would run for five years (2020-2025).
Along with Prime Minister Imran Khan, The chief ministers of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were also present on the occasion, said the PM’s media wing. Through this project, 30 percent of the total population will be targeted, which includes 3.9 million children under the age of two and 15 million women of reproductive age.
It was also decided that the total cost will be divided equally between the federal and the provincial governments, suggesting that both parties will contribute around 175 billion each.
Read more: Ensuring Food Security in Pakistan
The meeting further decided that nutrition supplementary commodities, capacity building of new and existing healthcare workers, and research and monitoring will be provided by the federal government. While the aim of the provincial governments would involve contributing towards implementation through community and lady health workers, identifying the target population, handling the program’s management, institutional arrangement, evaluation and data sharing.
In August of this year, Prime Minster Imran Khan launched the ‘Ehsaas Nashonuma’ program, a cash transfer program aimed at addressing stunting and malnutrition in young children across Pakistan. The program also sought to address the food security issue which is prevalent in the country.
Under the program, it was decided that the government would provide stipends to mothers for two years after the birth of their child to ensure their nutrition and development.
Malnutrition plagues a significant proportion of population
In the global food Security Index 2019, Pakistan is on the 78th position amongst 113 countries, a position which it has not improved in the past several years.
Malnutrition reduces the growth of the baby and increases chances of it having a low birth weight, and later suffering from childhood infections and mortality. For a country, whose leaders eulogize over its youth potential and upcoming youth dividend, its malnutrition statistics are worse than most sub-Saharan countries.
Malnutrition does not affect equally across the country. There is a clear distinction between the urban and rural populations between the socio-economic distribution; with women and the poor more likely to be affected. Malnutrition is a major impediment to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Micronutrient deficiencies are also prevalent among women with 50% of women anemic, over 37% suffering from high rates of vitamin A and zinc deficiencies, and a further 62% deficient in iron. In children under 2 years, age iron deficiencies are likely to affect brain functions acutely and probably also chronically. Malnutrition and food security can cause a drain on the countries finances as social costs swell.
Stunted growth amongst other problems caused by malnutrition
A study conducted for the Lancet Global Health in 2015 showed that stunting varies between districts in Pakistan ranging between 22% and 76%. Whilst, the lowest figures for wasting and underweight were both less than 2.5% and the highest was 42% for wasting and 54% for underweight.
Goal 2 has the aim to achieve Zero hunger, it has set globally agreed targets to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture in order to achieve this. Malnutrition is not just restricted to children but is also widespread among women of reproductive age.
Dr. Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, announced this in a press conference in August that 40% of children in Pakistan die of malnutrition in the first stage of their development. To protect children from stunting, the government is launching the ‘Ehsaas Nashonuma’ program.