Karachi: A country-wide survey to collect information on the nutritional status of women and children, food security and household water quality is about to begin under a joint collaboration between the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, the Aga Khan University and UNICEF.
For the first time, the 2018 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) will collect data at the district rather than provincial level, providing targeted insights about the areas that face the greatest nutrition challenges, barriers to adequate food intake and nutrition-related health status, according to speakers at the NNS launch ceremony at the Aga Khan University on Monday.
The NNS will also see researchers analyse the country’s progress in nutrition since 2011, the year of the previous survey which found that more than half of all households in Pakistan suffer from food insecurity, in other words are hungry or face the threat of hunger. The 2011 survey also found that 44 per cent of children are stunted, too short for their age, and noted that the indicators of mother and child nutrition had not improved in the decade leading up to 2011.
The study will see information gathered from 115,500 households, with field teams going door-to-door in villages, towns and cities across the country. The data to be collected includes blood and urine samples which will highlight the presence of key minerals for growth and good health; height and weight measurements to detect development delays; and an assessment of the state of household drinking water quality and sanitation facilities which can cause illness and malnutrition.
Field teams will also collect information on household income, gender empowerment, education levels, and breastfeeding practices which are known to have an impact on nutrition indicators.
“Poor nutrition in the crucial early years of a child’s life triggers irreversible mental and physical defects that have a lifelong impact on a child’s productivity, immunity against disease and earning capacity as an adult,” said Dr Atif Habib, assistant professor in the department of paediatrics and child health at AKU.
“Malnutrition also has a vicious, multi-generational impact since malnourished mothers are more likely to have underweight children. This survey will analyse Pakistan’s progress on a variety of fronts that influence nutrition and will enable us to design targeted interventions to boost the health of our young women and children,” he added.
UNICEF’s Field Office Chief, Sindh, Cristina Brugiolo noted that insights from the survey would help Pakistan develop evidence-based initiatives to achieve targets under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which call on countries to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030 and to address the causes of preventable deaths in newborns and children.
“Good nutrition lays the foundation for healthy, thriving and productive communities and nations,” Ms Brugiolo said. “The scale of the nutrition problem in the country necessitates the need for regular monitoring. Findings from the National Nutrition Survey will show provincial and federal governments where they can make the quickest and highest-impact gains. UNICEF is happy to share how such programmes can be scaled up,” she added.
Findings from the survey are also expected to shed light on the impact of the 2011 decision to devolve responsibility for health from federal to provincial governments.
Dr Baseer Achakzai, director of nutrition at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, said that the 2018 survey would be the largest such survey in the country. He added the findings of the survey would help the government of Pakistan to assess how the country’s nutrition indicators have changed following the introduction of provincial nutrition support programmes and in light of other social safety net schemes such as the Benazir Income Support Programme and other province-level initiatives.
The data collection phase of the survey is expected to take eight months with stakeholders gathering to assess the data at monthly intervals. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources are also acting as technical partners on the National Nutrition Survey.
Other speakers at the event included Dr Salman Kirmani, chair of the department of paediatrics at AKU, Dr Sher Baz from the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination; Dr Iftikhar Mallah from the Sindh health department, and Dr Naveed Bhutto from the Sindh Nutrition Support Programme.