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Monday June 17, 2024

Govt unveils Rs8.5bn programme to reduce stunting, malnutrition

This multisectoral programme is for 36 highly burdened stunted, calamity hit and backward districts of Pakistan

By Saifur Rahman
July 27, 2023
The Planning Minister Professor Ahsan Iqbal addresses the launching ceremony of “National Multisectoral Nutrition to Reduce Stunting & Other Forms of Malnutrition” worth Rs8.5 billion under Pakistan Nutrition Initiatives (PANI). — APP
The Planning Minister Professor Ahsan Iqbal addresses the launching ceremony of “National Multisectoral Nutrition to Reduce Stunting & Other Forms of Malnutrition” worth Rs8.5 billion under Pakistan Nutrition Initiatives (PANI). — APP 

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Planning Development & Special Initiatives on Wednesday formally launched a Rs8.5 billion initiative to reduce stunting and other forms of malnutrition with a multisectoral approach.  

The programme — National Multisectoral Nutrition to Reduce Stunting & Other Forms of Malnutrition — was formally launched under Pakistan Nutrition Initiatives (PANI) by the federal minister. 

This multisectoral programme is for 36 highly burdened stunted, calamity hit and backward districts of the country which includes 12 from Baluchistan, 10 from Sindh, five from Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K) and Punjab two each.

The other objectives of the project are the provision of micronutrients and nutritional supplements, provision of re-programme ready-to-use therapeutic and supplementary foods to treat and prevent stunting and wasting, promote healthy dietary practices and early childhood development, advocacy and behavioural change, research of local causes local solution, development of local food supplements and provision of iron-folic acid supplementation and deworming for adolescent girls, children, and pregnant and lactating women. 

Speaking at the launching ceremony, the minister said that Pakistan is a country with a high level of food insecurity as per the National Nutrition Survey (NNS 2018), with nearly 37% of households being food insecure and regions like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa newly merged districts being even worse.

Furthermore, 40.2% of children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth, 29% are underweight, and 17.7% are wasted, and these figures have remained stagnant for over three decades which is why under-nutrition accounts for nearly half of all deaths in children under five.

The most common deficiencies in Pakistan are those of iron, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, and folic acid. Iron deficiency, leading to issues like anaemia, low birth weight, and poor weight gain, affects children the most in the first two years of life.

The NNS 2018 confirms that 49.1% of children in the country are iron deficient. Iqbal further added that the future of our children is at risk as 40% are stunted hence, PANI has been launched. 

The planning minister added that according to the Global Hunger Index 2022, Pakistan ranks 99th out of 121 countries, indicating a "serious" level of hunger.

He said that the 2022 monsoon flooding distressed nutrition indicators, emphasising the importance of nutrition and its impact on growth and development.

Iqbal stressed the multisectoral approach to address all the underlying determinants and other confounding factors that contributes to malnutrition such as food adulteration, poor water sanitation and health and hygiene, in order to have a whole of society and whole of government approach.

He mentioned that PANI is a part of a larger effort of investment into the health and development of our people.

"We are committed to investing in our children and addressing issues of nutrition," said the minister while highlighting the several initiatives which have been taken including the hepatitis elimination initiative worth Rs35 billion, initiative for out-of-school children of Rs25 billion, prevention of diabetes of Rs6.8 billion and initiative for 20 poorest districts worth Rs40 billion to uplift the socio-economic status at par with other districts in five to seven years.

Planning Minister Iqbal mentioned that after the 18th amendment, most of the social sectors have been devolved to the provinces hence it’s their responsibility to initiate such programmes and align their resources which initiatives such as PANI.

He urged all stakeholders to align resources and efforts, translate commitments into tangible action for the children of the country.

Nadia Rehman, who is a member of Food Security & Climate Change, Planning Commission, said that despite investment the nutrition indicators have not been changed. "It is due to the focus on symptomatic treatments in past however, it's now evident that the problem manifests in underlying drivers," she added. 

Rehman said that malnutrition is not only impacting physical growth to cause physical stunting but also hinders mental growth causing mental stunting. 

She further added that this initiative will give an opportunity to the provinces, development partners and line ministries and departments to align their resources to address the issue of malnutrition with this programme.

Chief Nutrition of the Planning Ministry Dr Nazeer Ahmed said that nutrition is the heart of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 12 out of 17 are linked with nutrition. 

"Without improving the nutrition status, we cannot achieve the SDGs 2030 agenda," said Dr Ahmed, adding that the return of nutrition is $16 for each dollar invested.

Pakistan losses approximately $7.6 billion every year due to malnutrition (Economic consequences of undernutrition Pakistan in 2017, he said.