ISLAMABAD: Health experts on Sunday said that over 44 per cent Pakistani children under five years are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.
According to them, stunted children suffer delayed physical and psychological growth as both their bodies and brains do not develop as they normally should. The experts asked the concerned authorities to start an awareness drive for improving maternal and child health.
“Stunted children have a seven-month delay in starting school. They have low IQ and are more likely to repeat a grade of school. These children complete one year less of schooling and are less likely to graduate high school,” they added.
They urged to start an advocacy drive to address the issue of children stunting for having improved child health and nutrition.
They said stunting is impaired growth and development caused by poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.
Dr Wasim Khawaja from Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) said stunting is a result of chronic malnutrition which is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy or nutrients.
He said stunting is the result of continued low intake of energy and essential nutrients. “When children’s usual intake is below their required level, it results in impaired growth, and hence short stature for their age,” he added.
He said that there are multiple reasons for a child to get in the under-nutrition trap, and diarrhoea is one of the major causes. Diarrhoea leads to excessive loss of nutrients from the body even though a child may have consumed a sufficient quantity of calories or nutrients.
Dr Sharif Astori from Federal Government Poly Clinic (FGPC) said that when a child gets an intestinal infection due to a bacteria or other micro-organisms, he or she develops diarrhoea.
The bugs attach themselves to the lining of the intestine and interfere with the absorption of water and other essential nutrients.
“There are many reasons diarrhoea may happen and most of the times, the body’s natural protective mechanism helps recover the disease and overcomes the micro-organisms,” he added.
He said that Zinc is beneficial health effects for all ages and especially in children as it improves the immune system’s capacity to fight invading bacteria and viruses. “Zinc improves growth and development in children during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood,” he added.
When contacted, an official from the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination said that no one can disagree that nutrition is one of the most important factors that need to address in the first days of a child’s life as it is extremely critical to their growth.
“We are working to achieve zero stunting with better use of our healthcare workers. These are the people who are the closest to households and they develop a rapport with and are trusted by the people in the community. The intervention of health workers makes a significant impact on childhood nutrition, especially in the child’s first three years.”
He said that Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan also highlighted the issue of stunting in Pakistan which shows the high commitment of the present government towards addressing nutrition issues.
“The PM’s statement has been taken very positively by public health professionals while terming it as a good initiative in an environment where health has not been the priority of the previous governments which is evident from a meagre 2.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spent on health in Pakistan in 2014,” he added.