ISLAMABAD: Nutrition International (formerly known as the Micronutrient Initiative) launched the ‘Right Start Program’ in Pakistan to improve the survival and health of pregnant women, newborns and young children through an investment of $CAN 4.9M or 386M Pakistani rupees over five years to 2020.
The Right Start program, supported by the Government of Canada, aims to improve nutrition for pregnant women, newborns and young children. It will focus on reducing complications during both pregnancy and delivery due to high anemia levels, as well as reducing low birth-weight in newborns, and stunting in children under five years old.
The five-year project will reach 275,000 pregnant women with WHO-recommended iron and folic acid supplementation, 298,000 newborns with a package of interventions at birth, and an estimated 546,000 children aged up to 24 months with infant and young child nutrition services.
The burden of malnutrition in Pakistan is significant. According to the National Nutrition Survey 2011, approximately 44% of children are stunted, over half of all pregnant women suffer from anaemia, and only one out of every three infants is exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
An estimated six percent of the world’s chronically malnourished children live in Pakistan. As per National Nutrition Survey 2011, almost 10 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition , 3.3 million children suffer from acute malnutrition , and 1.3 million are severely malnourished requiring therapeutic care. Up to 60% of mothers and children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies and around 38% of infants are exclusively breastfed.
Speaking during field launch, representative of Health Ministry from KPK Government said, “We acknowledge the efforts of Nutrition International for implementing the ‘Right Start’ Program in Pakistan and selecting Swabi as a pilot district. I must say that this is indeed the ‘Right Start’ today as we all together take a step towards preventing and treating malnutrition among pregnant women and young children. We are committed to improving the health and nutrition status of our mothers and children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and will strive to make a difference, a true difference in our people’s lives.”
Joel Spicer President and CEO of Nutrition International said “The malnutrition crisis in Pakistan must be addressed as a matter of national urgency. Awareness and leadership are growing – and that is encouraging – but much more action is needed, particularly for women and girls. Right Start is a sign of our commitment and resolve to support government efforts to tackle this crisis.”
Right Start aims to support the provincial governments in reaching vulnerable women and children across the entire project districts, especially focusing on areas that are not covered by Lady Health Workers. These are areas that have been prioritized by the provincial governments and have reported high levels of under nutrition.
The main interventions of the Right Start Program in Pakistan include:
- Supporting the provision of iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant women in three provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to combat anaemia and help reduce the risk of low birth weight babies;
- Capacity building of frontline health care service providers in these three provinces to ensure quality healthcare services to mothers and newborns during, immediately and after birth – ensuring safer deliveries, optimal care of low birth weight babies, early initiation of breastfeeding and counselling of mothers on proper nutrition for themselves and their babies;
- Reaching children in all three provinces through a comprehensive package of Infant and Young Child Nutrition services in line with the recently launched National IYCN Strategy, that focuses on nutrition and feeding practices for children aged six to 24 months to prevent undernutrition.
Perry Calderwood, High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan, said “Malnutrition comes at a huge cost for Pakistan, both human and financial. It costs Pakistan 3% of its GDP – up to US$7.6 Billion. Despite the progress in the health of women, newborns and children, significant gaps remain: the number of women who die during pregnancy or child birth and children who die of preventable causes before their firth birthday is still unacceptably high. Focus must be, therefore, on preventing and treating malnutrition among pregnant women and young children. The Right Start initiative, launched here today, comprises interventions which intend to do just that. We believe it is exceptionally relevant to the nutritional challenges of Pakistan.”
Dr. Naseer Muhammad Nizamani, Country Director, Nutrition International said “It is our privilege to collaborate with the provincial departments of health and the Federal Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination to reach vulnerable women and children with improved nutrition in Pakistan. We will work closely with the government to increase focus on the first 1,000 days of life starting from conception to the second birthday of the child.”
The launch organized attended by senior government officials from federal and provincial governments, civil society organizations, UN agencies including World Food Program, Unicef, FAO and donors including World Bank, DFID and DFAT.
The Right Start Initiative is a multi-million dollar, multi-faceted initiative aiming to reach over 100 million women and girls with improved nutrition in nine countries across Africa and Asia.