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January 19, 2021

Alvi urges media, ulema to help address malnutrition

Islamabad:With President Arif Alvi recommending a multi-stakeholder response to arrest malnutrition in Pakistan, the PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan happily announced the development of a comprehensive PC1 of Rs312 billion to address all forms of malnutrition among women and children, with a focus on prevention of stunting and management of wasting. The plan has been endorsed by the Council of Common Interests and will be in the field for a period of five years starting July 2021.

The occasion was an advocacy seminar on breastfeeding, organised by the Nutrition Wing of the Ministry of Health here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr on Monday. The august gathering was apprised of the salient features of a mega-project that can potentially become a game changer in the struggle to arrest malnutrition.

Aside from President Arif Alvi and Dr. Faisal Sultan, the event was attended by SAPM Dr. Sania Nishtar, UNCEF Country Director Aida Girma, National Programme Manager of the Nutrition Program Dr. Baseer Achakzai, as well as noted parliamentarians, representatives of UN organizations, civil society, media, and social activists.

The PC1 has been devised in response to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directions and with the assistance of the National Health Task Force. Speaking on the occasion, the President urged healthcare professionals to discourage the increasing trend of bottle-feeding and to refrain from advising and promoting formula milk. He said, Lady Health Workers should play a role in educating mothers about the importance of breastfeeding. Terming it a shared responsibility, Dr. Alvi urged development partners, media, the healthcare community, and particularly ulema to support the government’s endeavors to promote breastfeeding. He advised ulema to widely disseminate and discuss the Quranic verses related to breastfeeding.

“If a newborn baby is given breastmilk within the first hour of life, it increases his chances of survival and good health, acts as a natural vaccine against diseases, and is regarded as nearly perfect mix of nutrients by physicians. This is the best care that can be provided to our children during their initial days,” Dr. Alvi said.

The President said, infants should be breastfed for the first six months of life, and thereafter should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years. He regretted that despite the availability of data about the health benefits of breastfeeding, only 4 of 10 babies in Pakistan are breastfed within the first hour of birth and only 50% of newborn babies are breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives. He said, infants not breastfed are at risk of dying from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea. Delaying breastfeeding for 24 hours from the time of his birth risks the life of a newborn by 80%. On the other hand, breastfed children have at least 6 times greater chance of survival than children who are not breastfed.

Dr. Faisal informed the participants that breastfeeding legislations were enacted at the national and provincial levels after devolution failed to stop the indiscriminate use of Breast Milk Substitute (BMS). “There were differences among provinces, ambiguities in the punitive measures and inefficiencies in enforcement. The industry also used certain loopholes to get away,” he conceded. On a positive note, Dr. Faisal said, the legislation has been revised and the process is in its final stages. “Once these legislations are approved, we will take all possible measures to enforce the code of BMS to sustain breastfeeding,” he said.

Dr. Sania highlighted how the Ehsaas programme, through its 48 Ehsas Naushonuma Centres, is contributing to fulfilment of the nutritional needs of children in Pakistan. Aida Girma pledged that all possible support would be provided by WHO and UNICEF for bringing mandatory legislation to discourage the indiscriminate use of BMS and to encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies.