A UNICEF report indicates that out of ten children in Pakistan, eight do not receive nutritious food. Other reports published by UNICEF also suggest that malnutrition contributes to 35 percent of deaths of children under five in Pakistan due to reasons such as maternal undernutrition and food insecurity.
Good nutrition is crucial for infants and children to reach healthy growth milestones. Well-nourished children are less vulnerable to disease and malnutrition. Undernourishment and unhealthy foods put them at high risk of developing acute health problems that can test their mental and physical abilities.
The high prevalence of childhood malnutrition can also lead to decreased mental growth and stunting. According to UNICEF, nearly 10 million Pakistani children are stunted. Acute stunting and malnutrition are the main causes of wasting in young children. Several regions in Pakistan have been recognized as high emergency hotspots for this problem. A report pointed out that up to 46% of children in some parts of the country are stunted. This not only indicates that a child does not have enough food to consume, but also the poor quality of food consumed.
Malnutrition must be seen as an existential threat to the country. Its growing negative impact on our economic, social and psychological well-being and growth should not be underestimated. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening. The seriousness of the problem, especially for our future, has not been realized. Discussion of the topic is largely restricted to certain circles and the massive, national strategy needed to tackle malnutrition is lacking.
Breastfeeding is a crucial intervention to improve the quality and quantity of young children’s diets. However, UNICEF reports that only 38 percent of infants are breastfed in Pakistan. This means that more than half of children under five are deficient in vitamin A, 40% are deficient in zinc and vitamin D, and almost 62% are anemic.
In such circumstances, milk can be a healthy diet for infants and young children to provide them with adequate nutrition during their critical years of growth and development. However, according to the Pakistan Dairy Association, 95% of the milk consumed in Pakistan is sold in raw form. A part is adulterated.
Currently, massive flooding has created an unsanitary environment such that bulk milk offered for human consumption may become contaminated and pose a great risk to human health, especially to already malnourished children.
Legislation and policy development to ensure safe milk consumption in Pakistan can lead to a healthier nation, a more productive agricultural sector and the expansion of domestic small and medium enterprises. It can also boost our exports.
It is worrying that most cows are hand milked in Pakistan. This requires human contact as recent flooding has put those affected at high risk of skin-related illnesses.
Undernutrition and infections caused by unsafe milk can lead to a cycle of disease progression and nutritional decline in infants and young children who depend on safe, nutritious foods to grow up healthy.
As reported in the media, with reference to the Pakistan Nutritionists and Dietetics Society (PNDS), low per capita milk consumption contributes significantly to widespread malnutrition in Pakistan. A recent news article quoted a report by Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Sciences of Peshawar University of Agriculture stating that bulk milk is a major source of various diseases due to unsanitary conditions on dairy farms, contaminated milk practices, tampering with water and the use of dirty utensils. Details from this report also suggest that bulk milk can carry harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites that lead to many types of illnesses, including diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
Many emerging economies have moved from bulk, unregulated and adulterated milk to safe milk through a mix of measures supported by the public and private sectors. Pakistan has fallen behind on this by a fair margin. The Milk and Milk Products Ordinance (MMPO) was enacted in 1992 in India. It was amended in 2002 and amended nationally by the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, to prescribe the standards and processes to be followed from farm to consumer.
In 1995, Turkey made pasteurization of milk and cream mandatory. In the United States of America, the federal government does not allow the sale of raw milk (unpasteurized milk) for human consumption.
There can be nothing more urgent than improving the health of our young and child population, many of whom have suffered from stunted growth due to malnutrition. The provision of safe milk is a key measure to alleviate this handicap and transform our youth into a more productive economic force for the nation.
The way forward is a harmonized national policy framework that encourages the growth of this vital sector of the economy and improves public health. Milk is a labor-intensive sector that cannot thrive without involving a large number of people throughout the value chain, including farmers, milk collectors, transporters, distributors and retailers.
The formalization and expansion of Pakistan’s dairy sector will boost economic growth. This provides a dual incentive for adoption. According to reliable estimates, Pakistan’s dairy sector has the potential to boost the national economy by around $30 billion. Legislation and policy development aimed at ensuring safe milk consumption in Pakistan, if properly and rigorously implemented, can also lead to a healthier nation, a more productive agricultural sector and the expansion of national small and medium enterprises. It can also boost our exports.
The author is an independent contributor