Around 9.6 million Pakistani children are suffering impaired growth and consequently low IQ levels, because of chronic deprivation of adequate nutrients in their earliest years. According to a recently released Unicef report covering the period from 2013 to 2015, 44 percent of Pakistani children under five are stunted. In technical terms, stunting refers to a failure to reach expected height for one’s age. The report also points out that stunting results in delayed brain development and a consequent impact on learning. According to the report, the number of stunted children in Pakistan due to chronic malnutrition is the third highest in the world. The rate for stunting in urban areas in 37 percent and in rural areas 46 percent. Male children are more likely to be stunted than their female counterparts.
The problem of the stunting of almost half of Pakistani children under five years of age was referred to by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his first speech as he took office. From this we can hope that some action follows the alarming findings. Medical experts say that stunting results from a lower intake of energy and essential nutrients. Apparently, diarrhoea is a major reason for this since it results in the loss of nutrients from the body even in cases where sufficient calories have been consumed. Other medical specialists say that infections due to bacteria or other microorganisms are the main cause of diarrhoea and the problem is an extremely common one.
The Ministry of National Health Services says that an all-out effort is on to achieve zero stunting and ensure every child receives adequate nutrition. Other studies have linked malnutrition and diarrhoea in young children to the fact that Pakistan has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world with only 50 percent of mothers feeding their children themselves. The use of formula also involves water, and only a low percentage of the population has access to safe water. Mother’s milk also offers immunity against common bacteria. This is a problem that needs to be taken seriously. No nation in which half the children are stunted can hope to progress. This is a tragedy and the effort to combat it must move forward on an emergency basis.