Taj Nabi Khan
ISLAMABAD, Apr 04 (APP): The first one thousand days of a child, starting from pregnancy to delivery, is of vital importance for mental, physical and emotional health development.
Stunted growth among children occurs when they don’t get the required intake. This causes various long term physical and mental health complications such as poor immune system, abnormal height or weight, and in some cases both, alongside cognitive repercussions. The inter-generational cycle of malnutrition means that the stunted growth could even be passed on to the next generation.
However, other than malnutrition, the stunted growth of children is also caused due to lack of breastfeeding, safe drinking water and poor maternal nutrition, inadequate psychological stimulation, unhygienic environment, poor sanitation, unhealthy childcare practices, and inadequacy in complimentary food intake.
‘Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness’ but how can it be possible when the bodies and brains of more than forty percent children of the country are being faced with stunted growth and that too largely due to chronic malnutrition.
Whether it is malnutrition, under nutrition or recurrent infections such as diarrhea, chest infections or helminthiasis are injurious to the health. The phenomenon of stunted growth is more worrisome due the fact that the height or weight loss of the vulnerable kids may never be regained. Eradicating this menace has become enemy number one as it had posed serious threats to the wellbeing of the coming generation. If it continued with the same scale, it would make them unable to cope with future challenges.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if less than 20 percent population is affected by stunted growth, it is considered as “low prevalence” while if more than 40 percent population is affected, it is regarded as “high prevalence” in terms of public health significance.
Pakistan has been faced with high prevalence of stunting growth as according to UN statistics; more than 44% children of the country under the age of five years suffer from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition. As per the government and UNICEF National Nutrition Survey 2018, KP with its newly merged districts has the highest stunting growth 48.03% under the age of five years followed by Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan 46.6%, Sindh 45.5%, AJK 39.3% , Punjab 36.4% and Islamabad 32.6%.
The issue of stunted growth has been highlighted by the Prime Minister Imran Khan in his inaugural address to the nation. While shedding light on the grim statistics of high prevalence cases of stunted growth in Pakistan, he said “unfortunately, we are among the top five countries in the world where children die because of malnutrition resulted in stunted growth.” Therefore, he said, “I am worried because we are not able to give them food completely and they are not getting nutrition too, and thus they have left behind in the race of life. They cannot complete. They cannot move forward in the 21st century.”
Talking to APP, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Senator and former KP’s health minister Prof. Dr. Mehr Taj Roghani said that stunted growth in children often occurs due to ignorance and poverty. She said that the maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and childcare can help overcome the problem of stunted growth in the country. She said that from the day first the PTI-led government has taken the issue of malnutrition very seriously.
She, however said, “The issue needs a multipronged approach including health education, health awareness programs, vaccination, sanitation, and poverty alleviation.” Children are also being faced with a number of infectious diseases that too affect their immune system and growth, she added.
Former Spokesperson Polyclinic Hospital Islamabad, Dr Arsalan said that the causes of stunted growth varies from area to area, therefore, there was a need to carryout large scale medical research on the issue.
However, he said, “Women education, women literacy, women empowerment and maternal nutrition matter too much in child healthcare.” But it does not seem possible without the political will and national level efforts, he added.