PESHAWAR - Health experts urged policymakers to take concrete steps for overcoming malnutrition issue in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and stressed for effective implementation of KP integrated nutrition strategy and relevant laws in this regard.

Addressing a news conference in connection with the Universal Children Day on Saturday, Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) KP President Dr Irshad Ahmad said that nearly half of all the children in Pakistan were malnourished, which, he said, undermined their mental and physical growth, as well as the country’s future prospects.

He said that KP had a dangerously high rate of malnutrition among children under five years of age (50% to 55%) compared to the 43.7 per cent of national average. He said that stunting occurred when a child’s growth and development is impaired from poor nutrition. He added that the stunting could deprive children from the opportunity to reach their full potential in life.

Flanked by health specialist Dr Abdul Jamil, nutrition expert Dr Aaeen Khan, Consultant Scaling UP Nutrition (SUN) Cell of KP P&D department Muhammad Iqbal and Dr Zia Muhammad, Dr Irshad said that the ratio of breastfeeding in first six months was nearly 37 per cent in KP due to lack of awareness among mothers regarding starting feeding their babies immediately after birth. He urged mothers to continue breastfeeding up to two years of age to prevent their babies from malnutrition issues.

He also called for implementing KP Integrated Nutrition Strategy and KP Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Act 2015.

Dr Irshad further said that many children died of pneumonia, measles, diarrhoea and other chronic diseases due to lack of proper vaccination, which, he said, was a matter of grave concern and should be addressed by creating awareness among parents to bring behaviour change among them. He also said that poverty was not root cause of high mortality rate of newborn. He stressed the need for providing the best healthcare facilities to expecting mothers and their children at home as well as at the hospital.

Keeping in view the high rate of stunting and mortality rate of the newborn, Dr Irshad said that the PPA was going to observe November 20 as Universal Children Day in collaboration with KP health department and Unicef aimed at highlighting child rights and issues. He said that different awareness programmes, walks and seminars would also be organised on the day under the banner of the PPA and other KP government departments to highlight children rights’ on this particular day.

Dr Irshad also demanded of the KP government to officially observe November 20 as Children Day in the province so that government departments, non-government organisations and the stakeholders sit together to discuss children rights, their needs and other issues, and formulate a joint strategy to address the issue collectively.

On the occasion, Dr Jamil said that there was dire need of raising voice for the rights of children, especially children under five years of age. He said that they were making efforts to discuss all issues relating to malnutrition with legislators to sort out appropriate solution for it. He said that mother milk was a basic right of the newborn during the first two years.

Similarly, he said that many children were out of schools that needed to be enrolled in educational institutions, adding that it was constitutional right of every child to get basic education. He stressed the government to take prompt steps to address issues relating to children on priority basis.

Iqbal Khan said that malnutrition was a big issue for which the incumbent KP government had mobilised appropriate financial resources and steps were taken to address children’s issues, particularly relating to the malnutrition . He also said that efforts were being made to implement relevant laws to prevent tendency of using formula milk and other supplements during first six months of the birth.