Cost of Malnutrition

According to a new official report, Pakistan loses $7.6 billion or three percent of its GDP each year due to malnutrition. “The Economic Consequences of Undernutrition in Pakistan: An Assessment of Losses” report prepared by the Pakistan Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Secretariat in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has used economic modeling to review 15 nutrition indicators from the 2011 National Nutrition Survey and the 2013 Pakistan Demographic Graphic Survey. According to the report, more than 177,000 children die annually in Pakistan before their fifth birthday due to their or their mothers’ malnutrition. Because this constitutes as future lost workforce, it costs the country estimated US$2.24 billion per year. It is an alarming sign that more than two-thirds of Pakistan’s children suffering from anaemia, iodine deficiencies or stunting will suffer deficits in mental and physical health, which results in lower school performance and lower productivity as adults. This depresses the GDP by $3.7 billion annually.
Pakistan faces a severe nutrition crisis. The Global Nutrition Report 2015 said that only a small minority of children are growing healthily in Pakistan, which is estimated to have more than half the children under the age of five as stunted or wasted. The report claims that many countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Con¬go, Ethiopia and Nigeria, had only a minority of children who were growing healthily. It also presents a dismal picture of the global nutrition status and says that no country is on track to achieve the global nutrition targets set by the World Health Assembly.
Pakistan’s 2011 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) showed high levels of stunting (43.7%) and wasting (10.5%) in children under 5 years of age. Half of women of reproductive age are anaemic and the population suffers from a significant lack of vitamins and minerals. The developmental, social and health impacts of this burden are serious and often long lasting. During his recent visit to Pakistan the World Bank President said that Pakistan should address the high prevalence of stunting among its children on a priority basis.
The malnutrition threat in urban and rural areas is different in nature. The lifestyle that we have been accustomed to in the urban areas is one of the major impediments towards creating a nutrition-conscious society. In the rural areas that are plagued by extreme poverty, people face acute malnourishment owing to poor distribution mechanisms and a macroeconomic policy that does not consider agriculture as a sector of priority for investment.
It is good news that the Ministry of Planning Development and Reform (MPDR) and the Health Services Regulation and Coordination are planning to review the current malnutrition programmes to to figure out existing gaps and actions to take. The Government of Pakistan is taking many steps towards improving the situation. Various networks have been formed and are working under the leadership of the MPDR/ SUN Secretariat, linking Government, donors, UN agencies, civil societies, business community and academia, in an attempt to combat malnutrition in the country. But much work remains to be done to achieve food security and also improved nutrition indicators.