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Child malnutrition should be tackled by coordinated efforts

Child malnutrition should be tackled through coordinated efforts

by Amir Murtaza
August 6, 2013

According to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (SOFI), jointly published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. The report further revealed that the vast majority of the hungry, 852 million live in developing countries - around 15 percent of their population.

An analysis of the world food production clearly tells that accumulative food produce is more than enough to safe every child from hunger and malnutrition. However, needless deaths of millions of children, mainly in poor and developing countries, due to malnutrition and its respective effects have clearly demonstrate that much has been needed to safe precious lives of children, no matter which geographical part they belong.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its In Article 25 clearly stated that;
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

It has remained a constant fact that Pakistan faces a high level of malnutrition, though the level varies in urban and rural areas. According to news reports around 22 to 25 percent of the country’s population is undernourished. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have estimated that approximately 37.5 million people in Pakistan are not receiving proper nourishment.

The available literature informed that, “Malnutrition is a group of conditions in children and adults generally related to poor quality or insufficient quantity of nutrient intake, absorption, or utilization. There are two major types of malnutrition: Protein-energy malnutrition - resulting from deficiencies in any or all nutrients and Micronutrient deficiency diseases - resulting from a deficiency of specific vitamins and minerals, which are required in traces.”

Malnutrition in Pakistan is directly linked with the high incidence of poverty. The poverty stricken people have very little choice for food; therefore, usually the quantity and quality of their food is blow the required level.

While speaking at a consultative session on “Nutrition and Human Rights” Dr. Tausif Akhtar Janjua, Director, Micronutrient Initiative, informed that “The chronic malnutrition levels in Pakistan have not changed in the last 40 years as nearly half of Pakistan’s children and mothers suffer from under-nutrition.” The consultative session was organized by the Development Partners for Nutrition (DPN) in Pakistan and the Child Rights Movement (CRM) Punjab.

Malnutrition is a major factor in the deaths of a number of children, especially those under five years of age in Pakistan. The fate of Hakim was same as of more than three hundred thousand children, who die in country every year before their fifth birthday. Needless to mention that malnutrition is the primary cause of such deaths, as it makes them more vulnerable to all kinds of infections. Nooran Bibi is the unfortunate mother of Hakim, who lost his life at the age of four. She said, “I became quite weak during my third pregnancy due to non-availability of adequate health services and food. My son, Hakim, was also caught by different diseases since his birth and we had no means to provide good food and medicines to him”. Nooran Bibi added that Hakim passed away on the same day when she gave birth to another boy, Roshan.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in its Article 24 stated;
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.

2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To diminish infant and child mortality;

(b) To ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;

(c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;

(d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;

(e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;

(f) To develop preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services.

3. States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.

4. States Parties undertake to promote and encourage international co-operation with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the right recognized in the present article. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

A committed and strong political leadership is imperative to progress the nutritional status of children in the country. A tripartite partnership in between the government, donor agencies and grassroots level organizations can help to devise policies and implement targeted interventions. No one can deny the importance of income support programs for poor families; furthermore, food vouchers schemes should also be introduced.

Corporate sector and social entrepreneurs should also initiate innovative programs to improve food supply system, with the help of respective stakeholders. Additionally, the corporate sector should also play their role in reducing child malnutrition.

The introduction of specific legislation on breastfeeding and child nutrition at provincial level is a highly encouraging step. It is high time for the provincial governments to take immediate actions for strict implementation of the legislation, especially on breastfeeding. Moreover, equal importance should be given to the health of mothers, who are often forced to produce children in quick successions, resulting in weak mothers and weaker babies.


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