HomeNewsHealth InsightSevere Acute Malnutrition widespread in Pakistan, UNICEF

Severe Acute Malnutrition widespread in Pakistan, UNICEF


New York, 22 March 2024 (TDI): Acute malnutrition remains an ongoing but often neglected crisis in Pakistan, with rates exceeding the global threshold in the country.

Acute Malnutrition is one of the main causes of child mortality, amounting to more than 50 percent of such cases.

In Pakistan, one in five children under the age of 5 suffers from acute malnutrition. Sindh is the one region that is severely impacted by the high rates of acute malnutrition among children under the age of five, including mothers and adolescent girls.

Funding from USAID to UNICEF has enabled the latter to provide aid in nutrition and other child survival interventions. This support has been critical in preventing, detecting early, and managing waste. These initiatives have also been able to target and treat acute malnutrition, across six districts in Sindh and Balochistan.

Severe Acute Malnutrition in Sindh

In Sujawal, Sindh, Farzana who is a single mother, became a widow during the eighth month of her pregnancy. Distressed and sorrowful she decided to return to her hometown with her mother and brother.

Bounded by grief, Farzana became weak and sick during the most important part of her pregnancy.

Shabira, Farzana’s daughter was born weak and was unable to receive proper breastfeeding, which is of utmost importance as it helps prevent malnutrition in every manner.

“She was practically skin and bones and we could not afford to have her checked or admitted to the local hospital, which is also quite far away,” reports her uncle, Ayub.

By the time Shabira was eight months old, she had become acutely malnourished. In July of 2023, through funding from USAID to UNICEF, the latter organization set foot in the village of 200 families to spur community-based nutrition interventions.

Spearheaded by Umbreen, the Nutrition Assistant, the team started carrying out monthly visits to Farzana’s village, where Farzana brought 10-month-old Shabira to the team for a checkup.

Umbreen carried out a mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC). The measurement was at 9 cm, which is below the normal range. It was confirmed, that Shabira had been suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

Shapira was prescribed a two-month treatment of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), which is rich in necessary micronutrients and vitamins and helps children under five to recover from Severe Acute Malnutrition. Moreover, Farzana was also advised to breastfeed her daughter and feed her age-appropriate solid food.

Within two months, Shabira had made a miraculous recovery, with her MUAC measuring at 11.5 cm.

The funding from USAID to UNICEF has enabled to training of health workers, like Umbreen. It has assisted in the screening and treatment of malnourished children, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the devastating 2022 floods, USAID/BHA partner WFP, distributed over 72,000 metric tons of in-kind food assistance. These included vegetable oil, wheat, yellow split peas, and specialized nutritious food to deter acute malnutrition.

USAID/BHA also provided $8.7 million in cash for food assistance to over 3.1 million flood-affected people in Balochistan, KP, Punjab, and Sindh.

This assistance also incorporated 580 MT of specialized nutritious food for over 420,000 children below the age of 5, including lactating and pregnant women in Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh.

Also Read: USAID announces $60 million grant for UNICEF

Promoting health in Balochistan

In Nasirabad, Balochistan, Khanzadi and her husband Hasil Khan lived on farmland with eleven of their children, with Usman being the youngest. In the destructive floods of August 2022, Usman’s family was displaced. The family was forced to live in a makeshift shelter for weeks, with flood water around them.

Khanzadi was expecting her youngest child, Usman when the floods hit. “It was a very difficult time. We had to leave our house and move to a safer place. There was not enough for us to eat. And I felt feeble and sick most of the time,” she reports.

Usman was born a week after the floods, and his mother reports, “he was frail and underweight at birth and had to be kept under observation in the hospital for a few days. He was so weak and unwell that he had to be fed through a tube.”

A doctor directed Usman to the Outpatient Therapeutic Program (OTP). A MUAC measurement was carried out on Usman and he was diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). After this, Usman was provided with RUTF, after which he recovered within three months.

A beneficent grant from the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, assisted UNICEF in establishing nutrition services in Balochistan.

UNICEF in collaboration with the Nutrition Directorate, Department of Health Service, Balochistan, and its partner Shifa Foundation, continuously provides and strives to carry out the nutrition program for the impacted communities.

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