The burden of malnutrition chronically afflicts 171 million children worldwide. This devastating circumstance has lifelong negative consequences such as stunted growth and impaired cognitive development that permanently disable a child’s potential to become a productive adult. One of the underlying reasons why under-nutrition persists is because of the lack of credible and sustained commitment on the part of Pakistan’s to tackle the issue. There is hope that this will change, however, with renewed efforts to end under-nutrition such as investing in lifesaving nutrition interventions for the most vulnerable sections of the population, ensuring appropriate funding and building capacity to deliver those interventions, with a clear focus at the national level.
It is in this context that funding on nutrition needs to be increased in Pakistan’s budgetary allocations. At present nutrition is not treated in the country as an area in itself and is bundled with the health budget, which is a small part of the country’s GDP, in any case. The governance of the nutrition sector remains an under-explored area and nothing is being done in advancing the nutrition agenda though the realization exists at the highest tiers of the present government in Pakistan that it is lack of proper nutrition which is causing stunting and slow growth among the country’s children and most of the adult population is also affected by a lack of healthy nutrition intake.
This is a critical time to understand how governance will work to produce positive results improving the quality of nutrition in the country. The Pakistan government needs to provide money for the improvement of nutrition in federal and budget allocations on the one hand and motivate nutritionists, development professionals, civil society, the private sector, parliamentarians and donors to support the government in sustaining its commitments made in the pre-election political context.
The nutrition sector holds key importance in a developing country like Pakistan. The government needs to demonstrate a clear capacity to improve national nutrition levels and should respond more effectively in attending to the issue of under-nutrition or malnutrition. The governments must coordinate policy interventions to deal with the multiple causes of under-nutrition, such as poor diets, unclean water, insufficient sanitation, illness and poor parental care. This requires diverse approaches across different government sectors, ministries and non-governmental organizations.
The government must also take into account the needs of the most vulnerable sections of the population. Malnutrition is often invisible. It becomes evident only when it becomes highly acute and the consequences on the people then are devastating. To stop this from happening, Pakistan’s civil society needs to be more organized and should be appropriately supported by the media and the private sector.
The need to generate public awareness regarding malnutrition exists at all times and the government must be constantly pressed to take action. It should respond by providing rapid and effective measures to prevent damage from malnutrition. It has been observed that nutrition interventions are most effective when they take place within 1,000 days from conception to age 2. Exclusive breastfeeding – giving only mother’s milk to the baby, not even water- for the first six months of newborn’s life, is essential for full filling the nutritional needs of the child in the crucial early stages of life. It is to this end that nutrition should be treated as a separate and a very important area of attention by all and management of nutrition interventions should be greatly strengthened so that they can directly contribute to the improvement of nutrition outcomes.
What is urgently required from the government is a policy commitment and develop a nutrition policy providing a frame work for fighting rampant malnutrition in the country and ensuring its implementation.
The act of pushing nutrition to the back-burner as merely a part of the national allocation for health is simply not enough.
Spending on nutrition should be a part of Pakistan’s national development strategy. All levels of government should be involved in the formulation of national Nutrition Policy – local, provincial and federal. There should be a coordinated effort for formulation and implementation of nutrition policies. Pakistan should have a clear nutrition agenda which should aim to effectively reduce the burden of malnutrition so that this factor does not hamper the country progress.
It seems, at present there exists in Pakistan a vague notion of the subject of improving nutrition levels. There is a clear absence of ‘concrete political will’, which can translate the national and provincial multi spectral nutrition strategies into effective actions and reach the most vulnerable and effected population segments – adolescents, women and children. The first evidence of this concrete political will can be increased allocation for Nutrition programs.
Written by Muhammad Mansoor Abbas
PR & Communication Specialist
Based in Karachi
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