Nutrition

Ensuring every child develops to their full potential

A child consumes Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF)
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi

Challenge

The right nutrition at the right time is essential for child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children are much more equipped to grow and learn, act as productive members of society, and respond well in combatting disease, disasters and other global crises. Poor nutrition, by the same logic, impacts on health, education and wellbeing through generations.

The situation is quite dire in Pakistan, with stunting and wasting heavily prevalent in the country. Stunting does not only mean that a child is not having enough to eat. It is about the quantity and quality of diet besides other factors. Inadequate nutrition among mothers during pregnancy is one of the main reasons of malnutrition among children leading to stunting.

Nearly 10 million Pakistani children suffer from stunting.

Only 38 per cent of children are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. As a result, more than half the children under five years of age are deficient in vitamin A, 40 per cent are deficient in both zinc and vitamin D, and nearly 62 per cent are anaemic. 

The devastating result of acute malnutrition leads to wasting, literally wasting away to skin and bones. Wasting is extremely high in Pakistan, with several areas in the country considered to be at emergency level of wasting. While programs to care and treat severe acute malnutrition are highly effective in Pakistan, achieving cure rates above global standards, they are covering less than five per cent of the total numbers of malnourished children.

8 out of 10 children in Pakistan do not eat right type and quantity of food.

An infant having his mid-upper arm circumference measured
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi
A nutrition assistant measures 1 year old Gullalay’s mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) at UNICEF supported nutrition center in Civil Dispensary Kaskoruna, Mardan District, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan.

Solution

UNICEF’s work in nutrition is supporting our mandate to protect child rights, in particular the right to adequate nutrition, as well as children’s right to develop to their full potential. In so doing, nutrition interventions are also positively affecting both child survival and child development, with a focus on the critical first years of life. UNICEF is working closely with federal and provincial governments at all levels to support national and provincial priorities and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets, including SDGs linked to health and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASHI). In future, UNICEF will work with partners to focus on the most vulnerable children, using cross-sectoral platforms such as Early Childhood Development (ECD) and the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative.

Stunting and Wasting

Critically, the diets of Pakistani children require substantially more diversity and, in most cases, lack sufficient calories. A focus on quality of diet is essential to preventing stunting, wasting and other forms of malnutrition. UNICEF with its expertise in advocacy, communication for development (C4D), linking mass media with interpersonal communication community based strategies, micronutrient supplementation and fortification, is well placed to assist all levels of government in addressing these issues, in alignment with the government’s nutrition plans and Vision 2025, among other key strategy documents. In order to prevent and reverse stunting, UNICEF Pakistan is focusing its support on the 1,000-day nutrition “window,” during which children’s nutritional deprivations can be reversed.

A lady healthworker conducts a Hygiene, Nutrition and Breast Feeding awareness session
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi
A lady healthworker conducts a Hygiene, Nutrition and Breast Feeding awareness session for a group of women and children.

Infant and Young Child Feeding

Breastfeeding is a critical nutrition intervention for improving both the dietary quality and quantity for children. Breast milk alone meets all of the nutritional needs of infants up to six months of age, in addition to providing immunological and psychological benefits. A mother’s diet affects the health and well-being of both the mother and her children.

Pregnant women need a diverse diet rich in vitamins and minerals though this is rarely the case in Pakistan.

UNICEF is supporting scaling up of nutrition specific interventions that focus on micronutrient supplementation, fortification and diversified diets for pregnant women and children under-2, along with enhanced breastfeeding practices.

Humanitarian Nutrition

Pakistan remains at emergency levels of acute malnutrition and is prone to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. UNICEF is ensuring strong technical support to transfer the responsibility of the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme to government, where feasible, and in strengthening the health system to scale-up and deliver quality care and treatment services for severe acute malnutrition.

A lady health worker conducts a hygiene, nutrition & breastfeeding awareness session
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Asad Zaidi
Sajdda Bibi, a Lady health worker (LHW) conducts a hygiene, Nutrition & Breastfeeding awareness session for a group of women and children in a health house in Basti (village) Shaheed Abad, Mahmood Kot, Muzaffargarh district, Punjab province Pakistan.