Protecting Children’s Health in Pakistan

Protecting children’s health in Pakistan is a national priority because every eleventh child who is born dies before reaching their first year.

protecting-childrens-health-pakistanIt comes as no surprise that life expectancy is much higher in the developed world than in the developing world. However there has been a real decline in the overall mortality rate during the last four or five decades, yet infant and child mortality remain quite high.

In Pakistan, every eleventh child who is born dies before reaching their first year.

The mortality rate of children under 5 years is 111 per 1,000 live births, and the incidence and level of child death varies between various groups of the population. Some of these differences are due to biological reasons and partly due to socio-economic factors. It is commonly observed that the mortality rate is higher among poor people.

In Pakistan, the majority of women are uneducated and the proportion of uneducated women is considerably high in rural areas. An urban-rural comparison shows that while acquisition of primary or less education by mothers in urban areas brings substantive decrease in the incidence of child mortality, rural women with the same level of education do not produce much change in child mortality.

Yet, rural women who have acquired higher education do bring a visible downward change in child mortality. On the whole, educational attainment has multiple benefits. An educated mother is generally more aware of her responsibilities especially when her child is sick. Educational attainment also brings rationality in her reproductive behavior.

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Nearly 121 children have died during a drought in Tharparkar in three months. Credit: Yasir Rajput

Children’s health in Pakistan requires serious attention

Pakistan is one of five countries that account for half of the global deaths among children under five. Infant mortality in Pakistan is a major concern, with one in 10 children dying before reaching the age of five, and one in 30 just after they are born.

Pakistani children are affected by pneumonia and air pollution. Air pollution is mostly caused by harmful emissions of biogas, which is used in most Pakistani houses. The main reason behind growing child mortality in Pakistan is the lack of child healthcare facilities in rural areas, where a majority of the population lives.

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Low state spending on healthcare, abject poverty, low literacy, lack of skilled birth attendants, widespread communicable diseases, insufficient emergency child health services in government-run district and rural hospitals are among other reasons behind growing diseases in children.

Children under the age of five face multiple obstacles including birth injuries and infectious diseases. Millions of children suffer from short and long-term adverse consequences of illnesses, malnutrition and injuries that impact their well-being and options in life, including fewer educational opportunities and diminished future economic prospects.

Children’s health is closely related to maternal health, as nutrition during pregnancy, birth conditions, birth spacing, and health status of the mother impact the health of the child prior to, during and after birth.

In the Pakistani province Sindh, 23 out of every 100 children are malnourished in the Shikarpur district of Sukkur. Mishal Pakistan, a leading research institution advocating for economic development, organized the field visit of a team of journalists for evidence-based reporting of health facilities. Sindh was found in the survey as the poorest and most malnourished province with only 28.2 percent of households having food security, while the remaining were found food insecure.

On March 7, the Sindh government ordered a probe into the death of 41 children who reportedly died of pneumonia and malnutrition in a stretch of the Thar Desert.

“It is a very serious matter and we have deputed a senior member of the party and officials to probe into the deaths,” Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah told reporters.

The lives of these children could have been saved if the department of child health and administration took a more proactive and serious approach. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to immediately get in touch with authorities in Sindh and provide all possible aid and help.

After receiving instructions from the premier, NDMA has contacted authorities in Sindh and its provincial chapter to assess the situation on an emergency basis. Sources said NDMA relief may reach Thar within the next 24 hours.

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Batool Fatima is pursuing a BS in Education at the University of Karachi. Read other articles by Batool.