ISLAMABAD: Nutrition International (formerly known as the Micronutrient Initiative) launched the 'Right Start Programme' in Pakistan to improve the survival and health of pregnant women, newborns and young children through an investment of over Rs 386 million till 2020.
The Right Start programme, supported by the Canadian government, aims at improving 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 percent of children are stunted, over half of all pregnant women suffer from anemia, and only one out of every three infants was 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, KP Minister of Health Shahram Khan Tarakai said: "We acknowledge the efforts of Nutrition International for implementing the 'Right Start' Programme 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," he said.
The main interventions of the Right Start Programme 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.