The Prime Minister’s Health Task Force, consisting of internationally recognized experts from many fields of healthcare, has presented a detailed action plan for alleviation of stunting and malnutrition in children.
The task force, consisting of experts from clinical and hospitals, public health, drugs, nursing, nutrition and other medical fields, held its first meeting under its Chairman Professor Nausherwan Burki and reviewed the large range of health issues facing Pakistan.
The health task force continues to meet every month as it develops recommendations on a range of health issues, with input from invited experts and the officials of Federal and provincial health ministries.
A prime target was stunting and malnutrition in the children, which was rightly and specifically identified as a priority by the prime minister in his inaugural speech to the nation.
The task force first did a detailed analysis of the available data. The recently completed National Nutrition Survey 2018 reveals that overall four out of 10 children under the five years of age in Pakistan are stunted.
The situation is worse in rural areas, where stunting in five year old children is 43% against 35% in urban areas. Between 1985 and 2018 there has been virtually no change in these figures.
The cumulative annual monetary effect of lost manpower hours, healthcare expenses and lower productivity due to malnutrition in Pakistan is $7.6 billion or about 3% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The health task force then developed a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem on an urgent basis.
All scientific data indicates that any impact on stunting requires treatment of children before the age of three years, which means that treatment must include pregnant women and infants.
The recommendations of the task force to alleviate malnutrition-induced stunting in the children will help promote good nutritional practices, including breast-feeding up to two years of age.
The step will increase intake of vitamins and minerals by the provision of micronutrients for youngchildren and their mothers and food fortification of staple foods with iron and folate, and saltiodization besides therapeutic feeding for malnourished children with special foods.
In order to achieve the objectives, the plan recommends induction and training of lady health workers (LHWs) to increase their numbers to 160,000 by mid-2021, who will then provide maximum coverage of targeted areas to promote nutrition services at health facilities and in current non-LHW covered areas.
They will be trained to provide Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) and Breast Feeding, care of adolescent girls and Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM).
It was also decided to provide nation-wide full-scale provision of nutrition services by 2021.
With proper implementation of this plan, it is expected that stunting due to malnutrition will be mostly eradicated by 2030.
The task force will continue to oversee and review implementation of this program.