Prime Minister Imran Khan is launching the “Ehsaas Nashonuma” program today – a new cash transfer program aimed at addressing stunting and malnutrition in young children across the country. Other than malnutrition this program also seeks to cater to the food security problem persistent in Pakistan.
Under the program, the government will provide stipends to mothers for two years after the birth of a child to ensure their nutrition and proper development.
Malnutrition has plagued a significant population on Pakistan ever since its inception. Significant steps such as these have not been taken before.
Malnutrition plagues a significant proportion of population
Malnutrition reduces the growth of the baby and increases chances of it having a low birth weight, and later suffering from childhood infections and mortality. For a country, whose leaders eulogize over its youth potential and upcoming youth dividend, its malnutrition statistics are worse than most sub-Saharan countries.
Malnutrition does not affect equally across the country. There is a clear distinction between the urban and rural populations between the socio-economic distribution; with women and the poor more likely to be affected. Malnutrition is a major impediment to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
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Micronutrient deficiencies are also prevalent among women with 50% of women anemic, over 37% suffering from high rates of vitamin A and zinc deficiencies, and a further 62% deficient in iron. In children under 2 years, age iron deficiencies are likely to affect brain functions acutely and probably also chronically. Malnutrition and food security can cause a drain on the countries finances as social costs swell.
Malnutrition because of iodine deficiency especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15I. Q. points. In the global food Security Index 2017, Pakistan was on the 77th position amongst 109 countries, a position which it has not improved in the past several years.
Malnutrition causes stunted growth amongst other problems
A study conducted for the Lancet Global Health in 2015 showed that stunting varies between districts in Pakistan ranging between 22% and 76%. Whilst, the lowest figures for wasting and underweight were both less than 2.5% and the highest was 42% for wasting and 54% for underweight.
Goal 2 has the aim to achieve Zero hunger, it has set globally agreed targets to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture in order to achieve this. Malnutrition is not just restricted to children but is also widespread among women of reproductive age.
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The National Nutrition Survey, the government study in 2011 (the latest date when one was conducted) – showed that 14% of women of reproductive age were undernourished and had a BMI less than 18.5 kg/m2, and this was predominant among the poorest, uneducated and rural-dwelling women.
Dr. Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, announced this in a press conference on Wednesday. She said that 40% of children in Pakistan die of malnutrition in the first stage of their development. To protect children from stunting, the government is launching the ‘Ehsaas Nashonuma’ program.
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Stunting (low height for age) is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and other conditions. Pakistan’s high rates of 40.2% stunting, 28.9% underweight, and 17.7% wasting are indicative of an on-going malnutrition crisis among children.
Ehsaas Nashonuma will seek to tackle this by improving the nutrition and health of vulnerable children during the most critical period in their early development – from conception to two years old.
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Although food is readily available in Pakistan, the country’s overall food security is poor. High levels of poverty and high food prices have given Pakistan some of the highest rates of malnutrition, undernourishment and childhood stunting in the world.
The situation is especially bad in rural areas, despite the importance of agriculture to the rural economy. This is due to the high incidence of poverty in rural areas and the fact that many farmers are net buyers of food. Food security is compromised with this increasing malnutrition.
Furthermore, economic and environmental shocks have left many poor Pakistanis deeper in poverty, which, in turn, decreases their access to food. With economic pressures increasing, it seems unlikely that the Pakistani Government will be able to successfully implement a series of proposed reforms designed to reduce poverty and increase food security.
Dr. Nishtar said that poor nutrition is a national tragedy that costs Pakistan three percent of GDP every year. She hoped that the new targeted program will start to reverse that trend
The first phase of the Ehsas Nishnama program will be inaugurated in the Khyber district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Under the program, quarterly Rs. 2,000 stipends for the development of girls below two years of age and Rs. 1,500 for boys will be given to their mothers.
GVS News Desk