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“Nutrition is crucial to both individual and national development. The-post 2015 sustainable development agenda must put addressing all forms of malnutrition at the top of its goal” was a unanimous agreement at the launch of the Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition Pakistan, well attended by representatives of the federal and provincial governments, UN agencies, donors, academia, media and civil society.
While there has been a tremendous increase in a global political commitment to improve nutrition; yet this has translated into a modest impact. This presents a substantial unfinished agenda i.e. to address the cause of 45% (3.1 million) of all under 5 child deaths due to malnutrition. In Pakistan alone, 35% of all under five deaths can be attributed to the menace of malnutrition.
Breastfeeding practices are far from optimum, despite improvements in some countries said Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, a lead author in the Lancet Series. Sub optimum breastfeeding results in an increased risk for mortality in the first 2 years of life and results in 800,000 deaths annually. Furthermore, nearly 15% of deaths of children younger than 5 years can be reduced (i.e. 1 million lives saved), if the ten core nutrition interventions identified in the Lancet Series are scaled up.
“If we want to address issues of malnutrition we would need long term sustained initiatives. This includes food security, child protection, gender dynamics which calls for nutrition sensitive interventions such as programs aimed at poverty alleviation, empowering women, targeted agriculture safety nets and early childhood development programs,” recommended Dr. Bhutta.
“In Pakistan, about one quarter of the new borns are born at a low birth weight, and half of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition. This seriously undermines the prosperous development of Pakistan as consequences of malnutrition cut the nations GDP by up to 4%” said Mr. Dan Rohrmann, Country Representative UNICEF Pakistan. “Despite the economic development of the nation, we are facing a silent crisis of malnutrition with indicators amongst the worst in the world and no improvements in recent four decades.”
“Save the Children is committed to the cause of addressing malnutrition,” said Carolyn Miles, CEO for Save the Children US. “Save the Children will remain a frontline ally for responding to nutrition issues in Pakistan.”
The Development Partners for Nutrition (DPN) group is involved in advocacy for considering nutrition as a priority at the national development agenda, policy and strategy support and strengthen nutrition in implementation shared Ms. Silvia Kaufmann, Chief Nutrition, UNICEF Pakistan. The DPN is supporting the development of provincial nutrition guidance notes and provincial inter-sectoral nutrition strategies she informed.
The launch of the Lancet Series on Nutrition is timely and relevant for Pakistan as recommendations could be used in the Integrated Provincial Nutrition Strategies being prepared in all the four provinces through a consultative process. However, for these initiatives to materialize political will and leadership is needed by the government both at the federal and provincial level.