By Shumaila Noreen
ISLAMABAD, Aug 13 (APP): The prevalence of stunted growth among children due to malnutrition is still one of major daunting tasks with most of developing countries buttressing efforts to cope with this challenge for ensuring the well-being of their future generations.
This challenge becomes further enormous for countries like Pakistan where according to statistics, malnutrition rates touch a stunting figure of 40.2 percent besides 28.9 percent underweight and 17.7 percent wasting persist and are indicative of an ongoing child nutrition crisis.
Such levels of malnutrition rank Pakistan as the second-highest burdened country in the region and ring alarm bells for the policymakers as how they could lift this nation to the international horizons for competing with the developed nations.
Taking cognizance of the gravity of the situation, the Benazir Income Support Program launched a valuable initiative of Benazir Nashonuma for preventing stunted growth in children, besides extending benefits to the poor on various fronts.
For those belonging to disadvantaged groups and struggling to meet their both ends in prevailing inflation, the Benazir Nashonuma scheme is not less than any blessing for mother and child care. This initiative is not only meeting their nutritional needs but incentivizing mothers with cash in return of attending proper training sessions.
“We didn’t know how to take care of children and their hygiene. It was just a routine matter for us,” Bakht Zaiba, a beneficiary from Islamabad said. “Then one of my relatives told me about this program. We visited the BISP office where after biometrics, the officials checked my kid’s health and gave me some dietary supplements for him.”
She revealed that after having the supplements, her kid remains usually in peace and does not cry. “With the cash amount of Rs. 2000 I received at the BISP office, I bought some fruits and milk.”
“It is because of this diet that me and my kid both are healthy now. The best thing in Benazir Nashonuma program is that they guide mothers thoroughly about kid’s health and hygiene”, she said.
Benazir Nashonuma is a Conditional Cash Transfer program linked with health and nutrition addressing stunting prevention and promoting dietary diversity during the first 100 days window of opportunity.
The primary objectives of the program were to prevent stunting in children under two years of age, improve weight gain of pregnant women during pregnancy, reduce anemia and micronutrient deficiencies and prevent low birth weight.
Another beneficiary attending a training session at Benazir Nashonuma Center in Karachi said, during her first pregnancy, she was very weak. “But, because of specialized nutritious food, we are getting from BISP, I am feeling much better. Along with food, I also got money to buy fruit and meat”.
She said through this program, I also came to know about importance of vaccination.
“Previously I used to be weak and sometimes faint during pregnancy. But when I started to eat Maamta and followed a healthy diet, I felt better.”
The outgoing coalition government had increased the coverage of the Benazir Nashonuma program from 0.17 million to 0.8 million families last year with an expected increase up to 1.5 million families during fiscal year 2023-24.
Considering the high percentage of stunting, the government has also rapidly expanded program to all districts of the country with establishment of 488 facilitation centers at tehsil and district-level health facilities.
The budgetary allocation for this initiative was increased from Rs. 4.9 billion to Rs. 20 billion (410 percent increase) for FY 2022-23 that had been further increased to Rs. 32.3 billion (61 percent increase) for FY 2023-24.
According to former Federal Minister for Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety, Shazia Marri, Pakistan People’s Party always focused on initiatives meant for welfare of the poor people.
“Expanding scope of the Benazir Nashonuma program to more districts for addressing the issue of stunted growth reflects our government’s commitment to uplift disadvantaged sections”, she said.
World Food Program (WFP) is the lead implementing partner for Benazir Nashonuma program as it addresses stunting among pregnant and lactating women (PLW) and their children less than two years of age through the provision of additional cash of Rs 2,000 per quarter per PLW and boy child and PKR 2,500 per quarter per girl child of BISP beneficiary families.
In return, mothers are required to attend regular antenatal health checks and awareness sessions during pregnancy, consume specialized nutritious food (SNF), and ensure immunization and regular health checks for their children.
The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are a window of opportunity to lay a strong foundation for later achievements. This time frame is a period of enormous change characterized by a high degree of plasticity in a child’s neurological development.
Investments in the early years of life are the foundation of human capital, and human capital is a key driver for economic development.
In this era of challenges like economic turmoil, rising inflation, and food serious security issues due to rising population, a well-nourished generation was imperative to lay foundations for a strong nation.
Therefore, besides increasing our edible and grain foods product, there is also a dire need to reach out to the poor, especially in rural areas, and educate them about healthy dietary routines.