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Call to address malnutrition crisis on priority

By Our Correspondent:

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a dissemination event about provision of quality services to pregnant women and newborns have called for addressing the nutrition and health care challenges across the country on an emergent basis.

The event was arranged by a global organisation, Nutrition International (NI), which under its “Right Start Initiatives” has been working on infant and young child nutrition, maternal, newborn and child health and adolescent nutrition for last several years in various districts of Pakistan, including Sindh province.

The participants of the meeting were told that NI’s Right Start Initiative was being implemented in close collaboration with provincial health departments and the federal Health services ministry. The initiative has three components: infant and young child nutrition, adolescent nutrition, and maternal, newborn and child health.

“Under the five-year project, over 800,000 pregnant women/mothers with young children have been reached with improved interpersonal counselling by lady health workers in seven districts — Lodhran (Punjab), Jamshoro, Khairpur and Mirpurkhas (Sindh), Swabi, Nowshera and Mardan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).”

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Abdul Baser Achakzai, Director (Nutrition), Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, expressed concern over poor indicators of nutrition in the country. “As per WHO threshold Pakistan is in a state of nutrition emergency,” he added while stressing the need for recognising the issue and coming up with remedial measures without any delay.

“We should urgently recognise and respond to this challenge and should prioritise the evidence-based policies and programmes, which can address this crisis.” He, however, appreciated NI’s support for delivering integrated package of interventions for adolescent girls, pregnant women, newborns, young children and adolescents.

Speaking as chief guest, Dr Nausheen Hamid, parliamentary secretary for health, congratulated the NI for organising the event to share the results of their four years work in three provinces. She said that the government was cognizant of the severe malnutrition situation in the country as well as laying its focus on first 1000 days window of opportunity.

Christopher Khng, Head of Development, Canadian High Commission in Pakistan, highlighted the importance of women and girls’ nutrition. He said Global Affairs Canada will continue extending its support to Pakistan government through NI for improving nutritional status of vulnerable people, especially women, adolescent girls and children.

Dr Aisha Fatima, National Programme Manager of NI, said that the project ensured continuum of care by capitalising on the first ‘’1000 golden days of life ’’ (from the day a woman gets pregnant till the newborn reaches age of two years) to reduce anemia in pregnant women, avert complications during pregnancy, ensure safe delivery by a skilled birth attendant, optimal care of the newborn at birth (normal weight as well as of low birth weight) and adequate care of the mother after delivery.

“There is also an introduction of weekly iron folic acid supplementation to demonstrate opportunities and challenges in integration with the health and education departments in close collaboration with national and provincial governments.”

Dr Shehzad Ali Khan, a public health specialist, shared the findings of end line survey of Right Start Initiatives, saying that the results showed progressive changes in the intervention districts with regards to the antenatal care and skilled deliveries, while consumption of iron and folic acid had significantly improved.

“As a result of active engagement with frontline health workers to strengthen their counselling skills, a change has been seen in breastfeeding practices that includes early and continued breastfeeding,” he noted

Dr Khurram Mubeen said that Integrated Reproductive Maternal Newborn Child Health & Nutrition Programme of Punjab had been able to provide primary health care services to the 18% of LHW un-covered areas of Lodhran for the last two years.

Dr Shabina Raza, NI Country Director and Dr Khawaja Masood Ahmed of NHS also spoke at the event.

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