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Plan to overcome chronic malnutrition problems in Punjab in the offing

Taking prenatal care importance and the healthy growth of a child, the Punjab administration under Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif recently launched a vital project, Khadim-e-Punjab Child Nutrition and Stunting Reduction Program. In the first phase, the program will be opened in 11 districts of the South Punjab and later the program will be expanded to other districts of a province.

Approving a program, last month, the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, also said that an effective mechanism has been evolved for the implementation of this program, but he said all-out resources will be ensured for the effective and speedy implementation of the program. He said all concerned departments will coordinate and discharge their responsibilities in an effective manner to make the program a success.

The Punjab MICS 2014 survey shows that every third child in Punjab suffers from chronic malnutrition (stunting). While stunting has shown a downward province-wide trend since 2007. The problem is very serious in some districts whereas Dera Ghazi Khan is the worst effected district, however, the rate stunting is as high as 50.9 percent.

Shahbaz Sharif said he wants immediate steps will be taken to resolve the issue of stunting and conventional thinking and attitudes will have to be changed. He said all departments will act in a close coordination whereas effective awareness campaign should be launched.

Stunting is the physical manifestation of underlying, persistent and severe nutritional deficiencies, and severely hinders the growth and development of a child. It is associated with suboptimal brain development, which may have long-lasting harmful consequences for cognitive ability, school performance and future productivity.

According to health professionals, stunting may begin whilst a child is still in the womb; thus, the nutritional status of the mother is critical for the future health of the child.

Experts believe stunting can be prevented through very simple actions that are done during pregnancy and the first two years of life such as exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months, as well as the provision of wheat, oil or salt fortified with vitamins and minerals and use of vitamin supplements for pregnant women and children. Another important measure that can easily be taken is hand washing with proper soap to prevent diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases.

EDUCATION FUNDAMENTAL FOR HEALTH IMPROVEMENT

Talking to this scribe some health professionals said that development of children and quality of their learning depends on a number of factors, including their own health status. Health promoting behavior inculcated by the school not only contributes in physical development and health care of students, its spin-off improves awareness about health issues among the parents and local community as well.

They said there is strong relationship between health of students and their learning had inspired planners and educators to hundred years ago in developed countries to launch health related interventions in schools. Gradually, developing countries are also realizing importance of school health program for quality education and over health of the society, and are introducing its various components in their education systems, they said.

They said improving the health conditions and process of learning among school children through school based health and nutrition programs is not a new concept. At present, most of the developed countries have institutionalized school health programs as an integral part of their education systems.

School Health Programs are primarily based on two pertinent premises. Firstly, the relationship of quality of learning with the health conditions of students, and secondly, responsibility of the state to facilitate smooth physical and mental growth of children for their future role as productive members of the society.

A third dimension emphasized in certain situations is the potential contribution of students in dissemination of health and hygiene education messages to their parents and community at large. This phenomenon is also termed as child to child, and child to community transmission of information relating to health care and disease control.

According to them, global experiences link success in school health program with partnership between various departments and agencies, including education, health, and environment. Partnership and networking between relevant departments and agencies provide an opportunity for concerted action to broaden the scope of school health programs and make them more effective and beneficial for the target groups.

Effective school health programs will transform schools into child-friendly environment, and contribute significantly to the promotion of education for all. Education sector not only trains or prepares human resources needed for the economy; it also produces leadership for various spheres of life. The leadership coming out of the educational institutions influences social and political dynamics in the country. There is an urgent need to plan and launch a comprehensive school health program under the auspices and partnership of ministries of health, environment and education, and with the technical support from various UN agencies and other donors and professional organizations.

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