QUETTA - Balochistan, which constitutes 44 per cent of Pakistan’s land mass and contains some of the country’s richest natural resources, has a dangerously high rate of malnutrition among children under age 5 (52.2 per cent) as compared to 43.7 per cent of the national average.

This was highlighted at a seminar held in University of Balochistan Monday about the role of journalist for promoting evidence-based health policy to reduce child mortality and state of malnutrition in Balochistan.

The objective of the seminar was to raise awareness on the subject issues, highlight the importance of child health, role of malnutrition as a contributing factor in under-5 mortality in Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular and to ensure increased reporting on the subjects. The seminar was organised by Save the Children’s Every One Campaign in collaboration with Mishal Pakistan with the support of Research and Advocacy Fund.

Addressing on the occasion, MPA Nasrullah Zeeri said that every child no matter where or to whom they are born has an equal right and deserves an equal chance to survive. “Being a legislator I’ll raise this issue in Balochistan Assembly because there is a dire need to address the matter,” he added.

He said that it is unjustifiable that children still die from pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and other conditions that the world has both the knowledge and resources to cure. He said that in 2000, the world’s leaders agreed, making a commitment to ‘reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds by 2015’ in Millennium Development Goal 4.

Senior journalist Syed Ali Shah said that the nutrition challenge facing the province is substantial. Balochistan, which constitutes 44 per cent of Pakistan’s land mass and contains some of the country’s richest natural resources, has a dangerously high rate of nutritional stunting among children under age 5 (52.2 per cent) as compared to 43.7 per cent of the national average. “The prevalence of underweight children is 39.6 per cent as compared to 31.5 per cent of the national average, while wasting prevalence is 16.1 per cent as compared to 15.1 per cent of the national average, he added.

Mass Communication Department chairman Yousuf Masih, said, “We all know what needs to be done but now it’s about generating the political will to do that.” He said, “We required a repeated call to action and pressure from media and civil society to help tackle the issue and if prioritised, malnutrition can be ended in a generation in Pakistan.”

He said the role of media is crucial in not only highlighting the issue of malnutrition and putting pressure on the government to respond to the situation with policy, legislation and budgetary allocation but also by creating awareness among the masses said.

Asif Farooqi, Chief Operating Officer Mishal Pakistan said more than 350,000 children die in Pakistan every year before their fifth birthday and 35 per cent of these deaths are due to malnutrition. He urged the provincial government to adopt and implement nutrition strategy that entail nutrition education, Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition and Infant and Young Child Feeding guidelines to reduce the burden of malnutrition in Balochistan.