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March 30, 2019

Involving politicians in nutrition movement


March 30, 2019

Islamabad : With 97 per cent of the children in major urban areas suffering from micronutrient deficiency, the alarming proportion of Pakistan’s nutrition crisis provoked TheNetwork for Consumer Protection and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to arrange a day-long advocacy session on fortification awareness with politicians from Haripur and Rawalpindi here Thursday.

The purpose of the event was to sensitise local governments and politicians on malnutrition issues, and the need to reduce micronutrient deficiencies through fortification of wheat flour and edible oil/ghee in Pakistan. Political representatives will be able to ensure compliance of food fortification standards in their respective districts and initiate food fortification campaigns at the community levels to raise public awareness.

TheNetwork believes that the local government system and district level politicians have greater understanding of the local context, obstacles, as well as opportunities to promote fortification. Pakistan’s nutrition crisis is one of the key barriers in achieving globally recognised sustainable development goals; the crisis is costing us more than 2% of the GDP. Data show that 23% children under 5 are underweight and 38% children are stunted.

“Politicians have deep connections in the community and can influence an increase in the demand for fortified food,” said Nadeem Iqbal, CEO of TheNetwork.

The lack of iron, vitamins A and D and other minerals limit the ability to fight disease, making it a major contributor to high maternal newborn and child death rates. The newborn death rate is 42 per 1,000 while childhood death rate is 74 per 1,000. Malnourishment also affects cognitive and physical development, ultimately leading to reduced learning abilities and lower productivity in adulthood.

“Food fortification, the addition of vitamins and minerals to common foods, is an effective, affordable and safe measure to lower the burden of micronutrient deficiency. The legislative environment of food fortification at the federal and provincial level and role of politicians in ensuring food fortification compliance at the district level can hardly be over-emphasized,” Nadeem added.

Faiz Rasool, Head of Programmes, GAIN underlined the need for effective legislation for mandatory fortification in all provinces and regions. Active and effective mechanisms (National Fortification Alliance) with empowered provincial chapters and consumer awareness raising programmes are also need of the hour, he added.

Naureen Farooq Ibrahim, PTI MNA, who was the guest of honour, appreciated civil society efforts to fight malnutrition. She emphasised the need to raise public awareness regarding fortified food. This event is very important for nutrition. It will contribute in ending malnutrition at gross root level. Government is ready to support civil society in order to address the issues of fortification and overall nutrition. Every individual has responsibility to fight against malnutrition. We are ready to work with civil society and local government to ensure compliance of fortification at district level.

MPA Farha Agha, who the chief guest, said grass roots level politicians have a key role in development. Food fortification awareness is essential at the community level so that no child is be subjected to malnutrition. Every citizen has right to healthy food and fortification is making it inexpensive. We should focus on collective efforts to ensure that women and children are not victims of micronutrient deficiencies, she said.

More than 30 politicians from major political parties participated in the event. Certificates were distributed among participants at the end.

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