LAHORE - In order to address the nutrient deficiencies, the Punjab government yesterday launched Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement Secretariat in planning and development department with support of Micronutrient Initiative (MI).

Delivering inaugural remarks, Raja Ashfaq Sarwar, Provincial Minister for Labor and Human Resource said the government is committed to improving the nutrition status of its population, especially children and women. He said nutrition has always been an ignored and less addressed subject.

Nutrition was merged with health for last few decades in spite of the fact that it has an independent entity. This resulted in decrease of all nutrition indictors all over the world.

Currently, Pakistan is facing a silent crisis of malnutrition that is amongst the worst in the world and has not improved for decades. Results from the 2011 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) indicated minimal change over the last decade in terms of core maternal and childhood nutrition indicators in Pakistan.

In children under 5 years of age, 43.7 per cent were stunted as compared to 41.6 per cent in 2001; 15.1 per cent were wasted compared to 14.3 per cent in 2001 and 31.5 per cent were underweight compared to 42 per cent in 2001. Vitamin A status had deteriorated and there had been little or no improvement in other micronutrients e.g.

Iron Deficiency Anemia - 61.9%, Zinc deficiency 39.2%, and vitamin D deficiency - 40.0%. The only success story has been iodine status which improved nationally as the survey indicates. Currently 69.1% of the households are using iodized salt as compared to 17% in 2001. However, Government of Punjab is now committed to improve the nutrition status at all levels and is working to address this challenge.

The minister assured all the development partners that he will personally support and supervise all efforts to address this critical nutrition situation in Punjab. He expressed the hope that Fortification Initiatives, SUN Movement and Multi-sectoral Nutrition Strategy will play a vital role in improving the nutrition situation in the province. He thanked Micronutrient Initiative (MI) and other partners for launch of the SUN secretariat in Punjab.

He added that I endorse and support this vibrant SUN movement but also suggest that among the SUN networks a SUN Parliamentary Network must be created. This parliamentary network should be addressed and informed with updated nutrition indicators and statistics in workshops and meetings.

Khawaja Imran Nazir, Parliamentary secretary for Health assured his full support regarding legislation for mandatory food fortification programs in Punjab that will help in reaching fortified food, to poorest of the poor in the province. He said that political commitment is necessary not only to succeed at community level for implementation, but also legislative cover is required.

Dr Tausif Akhtar Janjua, Country Director Micronutrient Initiative (MI), highlighted the role of MI in addressing malnutrition in the country. He briefed the participants about the positive impact of Universal salt Iodization, Vitamin A supplementation and upcoming project of Wheat flour fortification.

He said in Pakistan 45 % of children are stunted, this is the third highest percentage of stunted children in the world and means that more than 9.6 million. The three types (iron, iodine and protein energy malnutrition) are responsible for 3-4 percent of GDP loss in Pakistan in any given year.

Aslam Shaheen, Chief Nutrition Planning Commission of Pakistan/ SUN Government Focal Point informed the participants about the objectives of the SUN movement and the improvement of nutrition indicators, it has made in different countries.

Saira Iftikhar, MPA, informed about the commitment of parliamentarians to improve the nutrition in Punjab. She requested all partners to come forward and address the critical situation and to save the precious lives of our children and women.

Dr Shabana Haider, Member (Health) Planning and Development Department welcomed all the participants at the on the Inaugural Ceremony of Provincial SUN Secretariat.

Jahanzaib khan Chairman, Planning and Development Department, thanked MI and all partners for their role in supporting the provincial government to overcome the menace of malnutrition in Punjab.