ISLAMABAD   -   National Nutrition Survey on Monday revealed that 4 out of 10 children under five years of age in the country are stunted; showing 4 percent decrease since the last survey conducted in 2011.

Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination led the survey, which was implemented by Aga Khan University, funded by United Kingdom government with technical support from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

The survey assesses the nutrition status of 115,500 households across Pakistan. Children under five years of age, adolescent girls and women of child bearing age were the primary focus while collecting the data on nutrition indicators.

The survey said that nearly 13 per cent of children between the ages of two and five years suffer from some form of functional disability. The survey pointed out that one in every 8 adolescent girls and one in every 5 adolescent boys suffers from being underweight. Over half of the adolescent girls in Pakistan are anaemic, it said.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on NHS Dr Zafar Mirza while addressing the launching ceremony said that a centre of excellence on nutrition will soon be established in view of the critical importance of this area to improving the health and well being of the people particularly women and children.

Dr Zafar Mirza also announced a national action plan on nutrition to develop and implement strategies at the earliest given the urgent need to address nutrition related challenges in the country.

Addressing the launch event, Dr Zafar Mirza said that few challenges facing Pakistan were more urgent than combating malnutrition and this issue, beyond dispute, was in need of factual data. He said that this national nutrition survey is the largest ever conducted in the country and this time district level data had been collected rather than provincial level. The last survey was conducted in 2011 and since then efforts are being made to curb malnutrition.

In order to evaluate the progress achieved; the ministry undertook another large scale survey. The National Nutrition Survey 2018 which collected district specific quantitative and qualitative nutrition information. A survey of this magnitude was unprecedented in the country, he said.

Speaking at the ceremony, Joanna Reid, head of DFID Pakistan said, “DFID is proud to have supported the National Nutrition Survey, but the findings are very concerning.” She continued that women and children in the country are far below the acceptable levels of nutrition, adding that this alarming situation requires urgent attention.

“I would like to recognize the commitment shown by government of Pakistan to address this. Improving nutrition levels for under-five children, adolescent girls and women of child-bearing age remains a major UK priority in Pakistan,” Reid remarked.

Addressing on the occasion, Aida Girma, country representative, UNICEF Pakistan expressed pleasure on having supported the initiative. “The National Nutrition Survey 2018 is a wake-up call to a clear and present emergency,” Girma said.

“High prevalence of various forms of malnutrition affecting children, adolescents and women is more responsible for the ill-health of the people of Pakistan than any other cause,” she added. She emphasised that UNICEF will continue to work with the government of Pakistan in its efforts to end all forms of malnutrition.

The findings of the survey were shared by Dr Zulfiqar A Bhutta, founding director of Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health, Aga Khan University.

The event was attended by high ranking officials of the government, including secretaries of the provincial health ministries, Director General MNHSR&C and other officials of the federal health ministry.