The economics of malnutrition: Pakistan’s stunted growth

Global Business

According to the U.N., more than 44% of Pakistani children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition.

Neither the body nor brains of these children develop as they normally should prompting health experts there to call for greater efforts at intervention.

CGTN’s Daniel Khan reports.

Pakistan has the third highest rate of stunting among young children in the world, a problem not lost on Prime Minister Imran Khan – who spoke about the grim statistics – during his first address 

“Pakistan is among those five countries in which most of our children die before the age of five due to diseases caused by contaminated water. Pakistan is also included in top five countries of the world where rate of female mortality is very high. Unfortunately, we are among the top five countries in the world where children die because of malnutrition, and stunted growth is also a result of malnutrition,” Khan said.

Experts said stunted children have on average, a seven-month delay in starting school. They show low IQ compared to normal children and therefore, are more likely to repeat a grade at school.

These children also complete one year less of schooling on average and are less likely to complete their education. Government officials said efforts at intervention must start with pregnant mothers.

Dr. Abdul Baseer Khan Achakzai, Director of Pakistan’s National Nutrition Program explains, “Stunted growth actually arises from the very beginning, beginning of not only the child’s life but the start of the stunted growth is in the tummy of the mother; if the mother is weak and is unable to provide appropriate nutritious food, inside the tummy while the child is there, and during these nine months of pregnancy and if she, herself is malnourished, then how will she provide a nutritious multi-nutrients to the child.”

But perhaps the greatest contributor to stunting – is Pakistan’s contaminated water which leads to recurrent diarrhea and the inability of children to absorb nutrients.  In 2018, the World Bank published a detailed report confirming the connection between poor sanitation and stunting in Pakistan’s children. It’s a daunting problem that officials acknowledge, must be addressed from many angles.

“Malnutrition or focus on stunted growth, it is the priority of the government of Pakistan, but we have to look at the various parameters or the various areas which are initially have to be addressed, like availability of food across the board to each and every family, the poor people,” Achakzai said.

“The food security issue should be addressed. The availability of the nutritious food or the appropriate food should be addressed. Education of the communities, that how to deal with the malnutrition like hygiene is the main part for the correction of malnutrition, because if a child is suffering from diarrhea due to unsafe drinking water, so the nutrition whatsoever you feed her or him, it will not work.  So these are some pillar areas which have to be corrected before launching a complete program.”

Pakistan already has an extensive health outreach program that targets rural citizens – that with improvement could help to reduce inequalities.

Experts said regular monitoring and accountability will be critical if Pakistan is to successfully address malnutrition. Policymakers need to recognize the importance of improved child health and nutrition – as a key contributor to achieving Pakistan’s wider development goals. 

Hasaan Khawar on Pakistan’s stunted growth issue

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo speaks with Hasaan Khawar, journalist and public policy commentator about Pakistan’s chronic problem of pediatric malnutrition.