LAHORE - The Punjab government is observing nutrition week to check ever increasing malnutrition among pregnant women and infants through awareness and distribution of necessary medicines and food supplements in the poor localities.

Minister for Primary and Secondary Healthcare Kh Imran Nazir inaugurated the week by distributing sachet food among children and folic acid tablets and ORS among women in Shahdara suburbs on Monday. Integrated Reproductive Mother, Newborn Child Health and Nutrition Program (IRMNCH-N) is observing the week from April 10-15 with the collaboration of Unicef.

During the week, Lady Health Workers will visit door to door in low income areas and slums for creating awareness and providing folic acid tablets to the anemic women and sachets of ready to use food to the malnourished children.

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Kh Imran Nazir measured malnutrition level of children through a strip. He said that 48 per cent women were suffering from anemia and out of six, one child was malnourished.

LHWs would distribute zinc packets among mothers and would also provide special diet packets having minerals to the stunted children. He said that 803 nutrition centers have been established for awareness and free medication.

Experts believe that level of malnutrition was much higher than the official estimates, needing concrete strategy, sincere and continuous efforts instead of a weeklong campaign for media consumption. Experts attribute high prevalence of physical disorder among children to malnutrition. Children of well off people are also at high risk of abnormal growth due unhealthy eating habits.

Pakistan is among top three countries for stunting - low height for age - with 43.7 per cent of the children facing acute physical disorder. At least 31.5 per cent are underweight-low weight for age-and 15.1 per cent are wasted-low weight for height.

According to a report, 9.6 million children are stunted in Pakistan, the third highest population only behind India and Nigeria.

Stunting is irreversible after the child reaches second birthday and he/she grows up physically and mentally weaker than better-fed kids.

Malnutrition is responsible for high prevalence of anaemia, deficiency of iron, zinc, vitamin A and D among children. Prevalence of anaemia is 61.90 per cent, iron deficiency 43.80 per cent, vitamin A deficiency 54 per cent, zinc deficiency 39.2 per cent and vitamin D deficiency 40 per cent.

Besides these abnormalities, malnutrition also weakens child’s immune system, leaving him/her vulnerable to more diseases. “Malnutrition and co morbidities like diarrhoea, dysentery and fever are major reasons behind children getting polio even after getting multiple doses of vaccine,” said leading family physician Dr Abdul Rauf.

Most of the polio victims last year received seven or more doses of vaccine. “Vaccine is useless if administered to a child with weak immunity or bad stomach,” he said.

“Expecting mothers need one and half time more nutrition rich food than the normal routine. Supplement of iron and calcium are also necessary to cope with growing nutritional requirements during pregnancy. Healthy food is necessary for a mother feeding infants. It is a big luxury for the poor”.

“Prevalence of stunting is much higher than estimates. It is quite common even among kids of rich people due to unhealthy eating habits and avoiding breastfeeding. Junk food is not a substitute of healthy meal. Moreover, breastfeeding is necessary for developing immunity of children against diseases,” Dr Rauf added.