Pakistan tops the list of those countries where mother and child mortality rates have reached shocking levels. According to an estimate, over 400,000 mothers and children under the age of five suffer due to preventable causes every year in Pakistan and over 175,000 of these deaths are related to malnutrition.
According to a UNICEF report in 2018, Pakistan has the worst new-born mortality rate. Based on this report, newborn in the world’s poorest regions, for example in Africa, face great inequalities when compared to the developed regions of the world. In Pakistan, a newborn faces a one in 22 chance of death, while a newborn in Japan had only a one in 1,111 risk of dying, the report said.
The more disappointing factor about these statistics is the fact that most of the causes behind these alarming rates can be prevented. More than 80 percent of newborn deaths can be prevented, the report says, “with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition.”
Malnutrition and lack of nutritional knowledge is one factor which plays a leading role towards complications in women and children during and after birth. Poverty, lack of nutritional knowledge, dependence on traditional nutrition, eating habits formed over the years, poor food quality and less importance given to female nutrition from the very beginning, mainly because of gender biases, are major reasons which contribute in the ever-growing problem of child mortality and mother health during the first 1000 days. In Pakistan, malnutrition is widespread among all ages, and progress to address social determinants over the last several decades had been very slow.
According to the National Nutrition Survey 2011, one-third of all children are underweight, nearly 44pc are stunted, 15pc are wasted, half of them are anemic and almost one-third of these children have iron deficiency anemia. Unfortunately, these rates have hardly changed over two decades according to the findings of a maternal and child nutrition study group published by Lancet in 2013. Notable differences can be found between the nutritional indicators of urban and rural populations. Among women, 14pc in the reproductive age bracket are thin or wasted (with a body mass index less than 18.5 kg/m2) and this prevalence is highest among households that are food insecure. The differences in maternal and child malnutrition are also remarkably noticeable among various provinces and sub-regions and clustered in areas widely recognized as high-risk districts.
‘Umeed Say Aagay – Moving Past Hope’ is one step taken by Human Development Foundation to tackle all these issues faced during the first 1000 days of childbirth. Through planning and working with all the stakeholders involved in this campaign, Umeed Say Aagay aims to:
· Create awareness in Pakistan about the importance of healthy nutrition practices for mother and children in the first 1000 days through youth-led social movement.
· Inform masses about the importance of balanced nutritious diets for women from a young age and then especially focus on it during pregnancy including macronutrients and micronutrients and the implication of inadequate nutrition leading to poor pregnancy outcomes, child stunting, wasting and even mortality.
· Build capacity of frontline health workers on the concept of 1000 days incorporating Respectful Maternity Care (RMC) before, during and after childbirth as a basic human right.
· Promote early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding up to six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years in addition to age-appropriate complementary feeding to achieve optimal growth, cognitive development, and health for young children.
· Facilitate and strengthen cross-sector collaboration among critical stakeholders to bring an end to malnutrition in all its forms through desired changes in policies, systems, and practices.
Umeed Say Aagay aims to bring a positive change in the lives of those mothers to whom childbirth is no less than a nightmare and for those children who have to suffer all their lives because of the negligence in their nutrition in the early days. On a larger scale, Umeed Say Aagay hopes to have a strong impact on the national policies regarding mother and child health and consequently improve Pakistan’s alarming level of child mortality.