Islamabad : More than 9.6 million Pakistani children have experienced chronic nutrition deprivation in early childhood as over 44 per cent children under five year are stunted in the country.
According to a Unicef’s progress report 2013-2015 results for children in Pakistan, this is the third highest percentage of stunted children in the world due to chronic malnutrition.
It claimed that stunting prevalence is higher in male children than in female while stunting disparities among urban and rural population of Pakistan is 37 per cent and 46 per cent respectively.
It said that stunted children suffer delayed growth and their brains do not develop.
It added that stunted children have seven month delay in starting school while they have low IQ and more likely to repeat a grade of school.
It said that stunted children complete one year less of schooling and less likely to graduate high school.
It said stunting is impaired growth and development caused by poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.
Dr Wasim Khawaja from Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) said stunting is a result of chronic malnutrition which is defined by the World Health Organisation as excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy or nutrients.
He said stunting is the result of continued low intake of energy and essential nutrients.
When children’s usual intake is below their required level, it results in impaired growth, and hence short stature for their age, he added.
He said there are multiple reasons for a child to get in the under-nutrition trap, and diarrhea is one of the major causes.
Diarrhoea leads to excessive loss of nutrients from body even though a child may have consumed sufficient quantity of calories or nutrients.
Dr Sharif Astori from Federal Government Poly Clinic (FGPC) said when a child gets intestinal infection due to a bacteria or other micro-organism, he or she develops diarrhoea.
These bugs attach themselves to the lining of the intestine, and interfere with the absorption of water and other essential nutrients.
There are many reasons diarrhoea may happen and most of the times, the body’s natural protective mechanism help recover the disease and overcomes the micro-organisms, he added.
He said Zinc is beneficial health effects for all ages and especially in children as it improves immune system’s capacity to fight invading bacteria and viruses.
Zinc improves growth and development in children during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, he added.
When contacted, an official from the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination said no one can disagree that nutrition is one of the most important factors needed to be address in the first days of a child’s life as it is extremely critical to their growth.
"We are working to achieve zero stunting with better use of our healthcare workers.
These are the people who are the closest to households and they develop a rapport with and are trusted by the people in the community.
The intervention of health workers makes a significant impact in childhood nutrition, especially in the child’s first three years.
"He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan in his opening speech highlighted the issue of stunting in Pakistan which showed high commitment of the incumbent government towards addressing nutrition issues.