Saturday January 29, 2022

Threats of malnutrition

May 03, 2018

The most essential elements for sustainable life on earth are food, water and air. Taken as a symbol of life, the quality as well as consistent supply of these three basic elements in sufficient amounts is beyond question. However, many countries, particularly in the third-world, have been grappling with a severe food insecurity crisis, and have scarce livelihood resources to feed the hungry and achieve growth as defined by the UN and other international organisations.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of those countries which are ranked lower in terms of food security, nutrition and livelihoods. According to the Global Food Security Index 2017 (GFSI-2017), Pakistan is at the 77th place based on its performance in terms of achieving food security for all its citizens. This suggests that Pakistan is one of those countries with acute malnutrition rates and minimal access to clean water and unadulterated food.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has termed malnutrition as the ‘gravest single threat’ that the world is currently facing. Malnutrition, also known as undernourishment, is defined as a critical medical condition which is created by insufficient intake of essential calories, micro-nutrients (minerals and vitamins) and macro-nutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates). Internationally, it accounts for a median of 45 percent of deaths of all children aged under five years of age, according to the WHO. This also defines the prevailing malnutrition crisis as a medical and humanitarian emergency as well as a long-term public health challenge.

WaterAid is an international NGO, working to ensure that everyone in the world has access to safe water and proper sanitation. Last year, the organisation issued its annual report titled ‘Caught Short,’ which revealed the world’s worst places in terms of children’s physical growth and cognitive development. According to the report, South Asian nations such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are among the top 10 countries with the greatest number of stunted children. With the largest number of stunted children, India tops the list, while Pakistan and Bangladesh are ranked at the third and seventh positions, respectively.

This is really a matter of concern for the region, which lags well behind the rest of the world when it comes to providing basic facilities to its people. Instead of spending the most part of their hard-earned resources on military expenditures, developing countries must focus on the welfare of their people first.

When it comes to Pakistan, according to Unicef, more than 10 percent of the children in the country are acutely malnourished (wasted), while almost half of all the children are chronically malnourished (stunted). This makes malnutrition the biggest contributor to under-five mortality and morbidity rates in Pakistan. Moreover, most children are unable to reach their full mental and physical growth potential. This is quite a depressing scenario. The trend has led to the rise of a ‘stunted generation’, along with severe socio-economic consequences and huge financial losses to the country’s already staggering economy.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, in Pakistan, the nutritional status of children under five years is less than satisfactory and is still lagging behind the prescribed WHO standards. As per some statistics shared by the FAO, nearly 40 percent of the children in Pakistan are underweight and more than half are stunted, as per the WHO criteria, while about nine percent are affected by wasting (low weight for height).

The overall malnutrition and stunting rates vary province to province, but no such differences in malnutrition rates are found in relation to genders, says FAO. In Pakistan, the prevalence of stunted growth owing to chronic malnutrition is largely associated with the overall level of development of the provinces. The least developed province, Balochistan, for instance, has a higher number of malnourished children, while those at nutritional risk are the lowest in Punjab compared to other provinces. Similarly, the number of malnourished and undernourished young population in rural areas is much higher than in urban areas, owing to the socio-economic backwardness of rural areas in which people have comparatively lower access to basic health facilities and services.

This is truly a human crisis taking place in leaps and bounds, and the current rate of malnutrition among children under five years of age asks for immediate measures to help our children grow and develop to their fullest potential. Since the first two years of a child’s life are the most crucial period of their physical development, intellectual and mental growth, it is more than necessary to provide them fortified food containing ingredients that are commonly missed in regular food items.

A balanced, nutrient-rich diet for children under two years of age must also be based on fortified foods and nutritional supplements since the first two years tend to be the best time to reverse any malnutrition or deficiencies that a child may be born with. Nutritional deficiencies in children cannot be reversed if they are not provided proper nutrition in their early years.

For children to be healthy in the future, they must be given fortified foods in their early years of life in particular. This will help them reach their full potential in terms of physical health and well-being and will be tantamount to saving the future of the country.

The writer is a PR practitioner.