Principles of justice and equality are the foundations of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf. This translates into a commitment of the Party for developing Pakistan into a welfare state where equal opportunity exists for all citizens in all fields – from health and nutrition to education, security of life and property. PTI wants to build Pakistan into a country where rule of law, meritocracy and transparency are guaranteed for all citizens and where a social welfare safety net is provided to the marginalized people.
It is in this background that the PTI and its government, while translating their vision of Pakistan as a just and equitable society, must also make a commitment towards making the people’s nutrition requirements a part of their immediate development plans for the country.
It is also important that the other political parties, if they intend to play a meaningful role in Pakistan’s future progress, must also include the eradication of malnutrition in their manifesto’s and work towards that goals.
It is a bitter reality that such a prime issue as nutrition has never been given due importance either by any of Pakistan’s political parties or the Parliament. It is only the PTI which has, in recent years, mentioned the issue in its manifesto and its leader Imran Khan has spoken publicly on the subject in his pre-election speeches. Imran Khan has been pointing to various human deformities that occur because of lack of balanced nutrition in the poor sections of the population and how this prevents the stunted children from becoming a part of the nation’s manpower resources.
There is now a dire need to give nutrition more attention at all levels – political commitment, parliamentary inclusion and the government’s policy-making. While PTI included the need for better nutrition for the people in its manifesto, now that the elections are over and the PTI is in power, it must translate its commitments into tangible results so that those sections of society that have been suffering all along on account of malnutrition can join the mainstream and participate in the nation’s growth and progress with equal responsibility.
A large section of Pakistani children living in the rural areas are subject to malnutrition because of the poor economic conditions faced by their families. Many of these children do not reach the age of 5. Those who do grow up, are stunted adults and suffer from many health deficiencies that render them as noncompetitive persons in this nation or over 200 million people. Their below-par physical and mental development results in poor academic achievement. Lack of adequate nutrition deprives them of a strong immune system and of proper physical and intellectual development because of the nutrition deficiencies in their early childhood.
The statistics on malnutrition are alarming for Pakistan. The country has one of the highest prevalence of child malnutrition as compared to other developing countries. The factors of malnutrition in children lead to low weight and low height for their ages. This occurs because marriages in poor Pakistani families take place early, the family size is usually large and fertility rates among women are high. This is further compounded by lack of spacing between births, absence of breast-feeding and low household incomes.
It must be understood that malnutrition is not only an issue of affordability or availability of nutrient food but also has its roots in the people’s lifestyles and culture. What is required is the establishment of a special mechanism to alleviate poverty across the country as there is a strong correlation between the high incidence of poverty and the poor state of nutrition in the population.
In this respect, funding for the poorest districts should be enhanced and improvements brought in sanitation and availability of clean drinking water. To this end, PTI must take steps to ensure universal health coverage to increase focus on primary health care while upgrading secondary and tertiary health facilities. In doing so, it must see to it that the poor sections get food of an acceptable quality. This can be done by running defined food programmes in poor communities and providing food and milk packages to schools in poor areas for distribution to children. The government can also run food programmes in mills, factories and farms to provide nutritionally-balanced food to the workers. Food distribution camps can also be organized for women living in poor rural and urban communities and packets containing healthy food can be distributed to them. If required, the services of NGOs can also be harnessed to make this a focused and successful task.
It is imperative for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government to tackle malnutrition in children and adults through very meaningful initiatives. The PTI already realizes that malnutrition is a multi-sectoral issue and needs to be mainstreamed across various sectors. More awareness about malnutrition must be created and policies made to obtain positive results. What is required is positive state, political and parliamentary commitment for the eradication of malnutrition.
Written by Muhammad Mansoor Abbas
PR & Communication Specialist
Based in Karachi
You can reach me email: [email protected]