A country-wide survey to collect information on the nutritional status of women and children, food security, and household water quality is set to begin under a joint collaboration between the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination; the Aga Khan University (AKU); and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
For the first time, the 2018 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) will collect data at the district level, rather than provincial level, said a statement issued on the occasion by the AKU.
It said the survey would provide targeted insights about areas that face the greatest nutrition challenges, barriers to adequate food intake, and nutrition-related health status of various communities.
The findings will also enable researchers to analyse the country’s progress in nutrition since 2011, the year of the previous survey which found that more than half of all households in Pakistan suffered from food insecurity.
About 44 percent of children were found with stunted growth in the previous survey which found no improvements in indicators of mother and child nutrition in the decade leading up to 2011.
The AKU statement said that information would be gathered from 115,500 households, with field teams going door-to-door in villages, towns, and cities across the country. “The data to be collected includes blood and urine samples which will highlight the presence of key minerals for growth and good health; height and weight measurements to detect developmental delays; and an assessment of the state of household drinking water quality and sanitation facilities which can cause illness and malnutrition,” said the statement.
Apart from these indicators, survey teams will also collect information on household income, gender empowerment, education levels, and breastfeeding practices.
“Poor nutrition in the crucial early years of a child’s life triggers irreversible mental and physical defects that have a lifelong impact on a child’s productivity, immunity against disease, and earning capacity as an adult,” Dr Atif Habib, an assistant professor in the department of paediatrics and child health at AKU, said at the NNS launch ceremony on Monday.
“Malnutrition also has a vicious, multi-generational impact since malnourished mothers are more likely to have underweight children,” he said.
Speaking at the ceremony, UNICEF’s Sindh field office chief Cristina Brugiolo noted that insights from the survey would help Pakistan develop evidence-based initiatives to achieve targets under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which call on countries to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
“Good nutrition lays the foundation for healthy, thriving, and productive communities and nations,” Brugiolo said, adding that the scale of the nutrition problem in Pakistan necessitated the need for regular monitoring. “Findings from the survey will show provincial and federal governments where they can make the quickest and highest-impact gains. UNICEF is happy to share how such programmes can be scaled up.”
Other speakers at the ceremony said that the findings from the survey were also expected to highlight the impact of the 2011 decision to devolve responsibility for health from federal to provincial governments.
Dr Baseer Achakzai, the director of nutrition at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, said that the 2018 survey would be the largest such survey in the country. He said the findings will enable the government assess how the country’s nutrition indicators have changed following the introduction of provincial nutrition support programmes and other social safety net schemes like the Benazir Income Support Programme.
The data collection phase of the survey is expected to take eight months. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources are also acting as technical partners on the National Nutrition Survey.