KARACHI, Nov14, 2022 – National Nutrition Action Plan nested firmly within the provinces and owned by all sectors along with a national nutrition dashboard is required to address Pakistan’s malnutrition crisis.
This was amongst the recommendations given by Professor Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Founding Director of the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health at Aga Khan University while delivering the plenary talk during the inaugural session of the two-day 24th National Health Sciences Research Symposium organised by the Aga Khan University in Karachi recently. The event combined in-person and online presentations focusing on the theme of Nutrition through the life course: Improving health for generations to come.
Dr Bhutta said that child malnutrition rates in Pakistan have not changed much over 50 years while stunting is disproportionately clustered towards the south of the country. There is a close correlation between maternal and early childhood undernutrition.
Pakistan faces a triple burden of malnutrition – undernutrition, overweight/obesity and micronutrient deficiencies. Moreover, malnutrition in all its forms cuts across socio-economic strata. “We have all the data we need for policymaking. Concerted action and political will are required to address inequities”.
Periodic disasters also underscore the vast disparity in nutrition progress and investments across the country. We have a unique opportunity at this point in time to make a difference across generations, and the future of the nation, by investing in evidence-based strategies and addressing the social determinants of undernutrition in the most affected districts of the country, he added.
Mr Abdul Qadir Patel, Federal Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination served as chief guest during the inaugural session. The minister said there was a need to create a ‘package’ of health-related interventions rather than compartmentalising them, for example combining polio, COVID, nutrition etc. In the post-flood situation, the issue of malnutrition will become greater as floods have principally hit food-producing regions, he added. The minister assured the assembled health experts that he would work on the research and input they suggested.
Chair of the symposium Dr Salman Kirmani said AKU has had the privilege of being the prime driver of evidence-based practice in the area of nutrition, especially in the context of women and child health. Our work has not remained limited to the hospital, but has extended well beyond to the most far-flung and underserved communities all over Pakistan. We have impacted policy and driven change to improve the health and nutrition of our most valuable assets, the mother and the child.
Dr Adil Haider, Dean, Medical College, AKU stressed on the opportunity that lies in working together with the government and health practitioners to synergize and address the issue from its root. “We must collaborate with policymakers and administrators to bring about a change in Pakistan’s maternal and neonatal health system. We need to give all mothers and children an equal chance at a healthy life.”
Dr Francesco Branca, Director, Nutrition and Food Safety, World Health Organization, said that between 702 and 828 million people were facing hunger in the world in 2021 due to multiple crises, including the energy crisis, economic downturn, climate change, war in Ukraine, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. The southern Asia sub-region has the highest wasting prevalence in the world. More than half of all children (25m) affected by wasting live in southern Asia. Moreover, countries with very high stunting prevalence have declined by half since 2000, though stunting remains an issue in southern Asia.
Dr Parul Christian, Director, Program in Human Nutrition, Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA, said there is an opportunity to improve nutrition quality in antenatal care through dietary counselling, supplementation with iron-folic acid and calcium supplementation.
Co-chairs of the symposium Dr Lumaan Sheikh and Dr Fyezah Jahan, Dr Sidrah Nausheen, Dr Shelina Bhamani, Imran Nasir, Carl Amrhein from AKU as well as Dr Baseer Achackzai, National Program Manager, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination also spoke.