Stunting – a major health concern for Pakistan with more than 12 million children suffering from stunted growth – has only increased during the pandemic. Lockdowns and its economic impacts have significantly contributed to malnourishment and wasting among Sindh’s children.
Sindh Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Project Director Dr Sahib Jan Bader told The Express Tribune that a survey in 13 select districts of the province found that a majority of young mothers are malnourished. This inevitably affects the newborn, she said. “If an expecting mother is anaemic, she will have a premature baby.”
Dr Bader briefed about the Accelerated Action Plan, launched around three years ago in 13 districts of Sindh, namely Sukkur, Khairpur Mir, Naushero Feroze, Ghotki, Mirpurkhas, Hyderabad, Umerkot, Sanghar, Shaheed Benazirabad, Badin, Jacobabad, Kashmore and Tharparkar. Under the plan, the health department claims to be taking targeted measures – World Bank’s Disbursement Link Indicators – for the prevention, recovery and rehabilitation of under five children at risk for stunting and malnutrition.
“In some districts like Badin natal health is not up to the mark,” said Dr Bader. “Malnutrition is very common [in Sindh with majority of children falling below average national height].”
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A national nutrition survey in 2018 found 45.5 per cent stunting and 23.3 per cent wasting among Sindh’s children. The provincial health officials aim to reduce to 43 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.
According to health experts, stunting is irreversible but it can be prevented by improving nutrition for women and children in the first 1,000 days – from the point of conception till the child’s second birthday.
Food scarcity and maternal health
“Newborns do not die because of food scarcity but because of the mothers’ health,” said Dr Bader, elaborating on the situation in Tharparkar, which frequently records infant deaths.
Another health expert, Dr Kashif Ahmed, told The Express Tribune that effective community response is crucial to ensure healthy newborns. For social factors often influence how well treated women are when they are pregnant, he added.
Meanwhile, Lutaf Mangrio, a development professional working in the health sector, said that ecological changes also contribute to infant deaths. Maternal and child health cannot be separated, she stressed. “We have to understand the overall situation.”
The health experts pointed out that maternal health also directly impacts breastfeeding practices. Dr Bader observed that breastfeeding had increased from 29 to 52 per cent in the past few years which was beneficial for the child’s health granted that the mother’s health is also looked after.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2021.