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February 6, 2020

New adolescent nutrition guidelines launched

Islamabad

February 6, 2020

Islamabad : The ‘Adolescent Nutrition Supplementation Guidelines for Pakistan’ were launched and disseminated here Tuesday amidst high-sounding statements highlighting how important it is for adolescents to get the required nourishment in order not to suffer from growth retardation and nutrient deprivation. Ironically, nobody raised a voice about how equally important it is for the Nutrition Wing of the Ministry of Health to have the requisite resources for implementation of strategies, guidelines, and roadmaps that would facilitate future programming on adolescent nutrition in Pakistan.

Despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to address malnutrition, no practical measures have been taken thus far, simply because there are no funds. About 16 months ago, the Nutrition Wing was tasked to prepare a comprehensive plan in consultation with the provinces; this was done in July 2019. Since then, three high-level meetings have been conducted, but no practical steps taken. The Planning Commission first sought comments and commitment from the provinces, which were submitted, and is now questioning where the resources for nutrition interventions will come from. It is about time the PM intervened and urgently ordered the finalisation and approval of a PC-1 as further delays will only cast doubts about the government’s sincerity to the cause.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Dr. Nausheen Hamid, Director Nutrition in the Ministry of Health Dr. Baseer Khan Achakzai, WHO Representative Dr. Palitha Mahipala, provincial representatives, and UN partners attended Tuesday’s launch of the guidelines. The presence of young girls and boys in the event made it distinct; they all urged the government to prioritise adolescent health.

The key actions that the guidelines recommend include screening of adolescents at the school, health facility and community level, and enrolment of adolescents at risk of malnutrition in programmes where nutritional assessment, counseling and support are available; daily iron and folic acid supplementation; provision of multi-micronutrient tablets to underweight non-pregnant married women; antenatal counseling about healthy diet; improved intake of fruits; and regulation of school meals by food authorities and prohibition of the sale of unhealthy snacks, energy drinks and soft drinks in and around educational settings, among others. The guidelines also call upon policy makers to ensure availability of spaces in school and public places for physical activity and devise multicomponent programmes to promote structured sports activities in schools, the community, and at the workplace.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Nausheen said, adolescence is the best time to prevent the onset of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adult life. Adolescents constitute 22% or more than 40 million of Pakistan’s population. “Many macronutrients and micronutrients related deficiencies have a negative impact on growth and development during adolescence. If an anemic adolescent girl gets pregnant, the fetus extracts iron from virtually every cell of her body and the anemia gets perpetual with repeated pregnancies,” she pointed out.

Dr. Palitha said, adolescent girls and boys have remained a neglected target group for health and nutrition interventions in Pakistan. “Improving their nutrition status is vital for economic growth; the SDGs will not be met without investing in adolescent health, which brings triple dividends: better health for adolescents now, improved productivity in their future adult life, and reduced health risks for their children. “Hence, there is a need for ensuring optimal nutrition among adolescents, requiring coordinated actions across multiple sectors,” he said, hoping that the revised guidelines would be implemented and would yield results in the form of improved nutrition and health of adolescents.

Dr. Baseer Achakzai warned that with current levels of chronic malnutrition in children and adolescents, the Pakistani youth may not be able to compete with the rest of the world. “After the 2011 National Nutrition Survey, no substantial nutrition programme has been launched in the country. Now once again, the current government has planned a huge programme which has been submitted for approval, and if implemented, will completely transform the scenario,” he said, adding that the provincial governments could also contribute to and prioritize the nutrition programme for at least the initial five years, with UN agencies and donors simultaneously stepping forward with technical support. He thanked WHO for their technical and financial support to the Nutrition Wing for development of the guidelines.

The event saw Nutrition Programme Managers from Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, AJK, GB and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sharing their views with regard to the guidelines and seeking the federal government’s support to initiate implementation at the earliest.