Malnutrition; a threat to Balochistan
By Shamsher Jamaldini, Nushki
Specially, it is heartbreaking to see that the province of Balochistan is facing the risk of malnutrition as evidence of mortality rate among children and women belonging to socially marginalized groups in the province have acquired ominous proportions. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared emergency in Balochistan in view of the indicators of global acute malnutrition. Ten out of total 20 high food insecure districts of the country are in the province.
Against the threshold level of 15 percent classified by the WHO, as many as 16 percent of children in Balochistan are acute malnourished 52.2 percent up to five year age started and 39.6 percent underweight. Besides, five million children, about 70 percent women in the province are too suffering from malnutrition, nearly half of them being anemic and vitamin A deficient, as suggested by Nation Nutrition data.
The province has the highest infant and mother mortality in the country and that is mainly because of malnutrition. The nutrition cell, along with WHO and UNICEF, has been working in nine out of 32 districts of the province, which are highly percent to malnutrition. It has only been able to cover their only 43 percent population, leaving the rest 57 percent at the mercy of diseases.
It is also noted that Child and Mother Health situation in the Baloch populated areas is turned grim. If preventive measure were not put in place, Tharparkar – like situation may develop in these areas.
No doubt, less rain, growing poverty, small number of lady health workers and insufficient funds impedes access to the affected people.
After Sindh, Balochistan has the highest level of food insecurity in the country. About 63 percent of households in the province are food insecure. With 18 percent of them classified as food “insecure with hunger” all 90 percent districts are classified as “extremely high” to “high” food insecure. None is qualified to be food secure.
Except the areas bordering Punjab, most of the province is mountainous, relatively barren and arid, and not suitable for agriculture. Only 15% of average household monthly income in the province comes from crops production or livestock. “There is continued high level of food insecurity in Balochistan, caused by uncountable factors feeding to the acute malnutrition.” Says Nicol Carn, the Provincial Chief of World Food Program (WFP). Though the government has been striving hard to cope with the daunting challenge, but the security situation, geographic location of the province, huge swathe of land and scattered population complexes the issue of malnutrition manifold, she adds.
The WFP along with the provincial government has been assisting the malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women to prevent starting and micro-nutrient deficiencies in the nine districts through LHWs. However, only 28 percent of households are reached by LHWs in the province as compared to a National Coverage of 83 percent. The National Nutrition Survey also highlights that micro-nutrient deficiencies in Balochistan are serious. Vitamin-A deficiency, which jeopardizes the primary functions, including eyesight and reduces immune function leaving the body more susceptible to infection, affects 54 percent women and 78 percent children, the highest in the country.
Keeping in view of the highest infant and Mother mortality rate in Balochistan, it is high time to address the malnutrition, which has multiple co-reactions with infections and deadly diseases. Steps are required on war footing by evolving a Multi-Sectorial nutrition strategy and scaling-up cross – sectorial interventions strengthening later and intra – sectorial linkage, and incorporation of nutrition in the curricula at the educational levels will greatly help overcome the daunting challenge effectively. Several institutions are offering degree programs in the field of human nutrition in the country but there is no body or council in the country which can regulate the important subject at national level.
Moreover, there is a need to establish a nutrition and dietetic council in Balochistan which could regulate and monitor degree programs and play its role in human resource development.