"Fronting the truth for 352,400 children dying each year in Pakistan"--By Meena Gabeena; Senior Officer Communications

Monday 10 November 2014

“I am here to run today in order to remind the government, the promise they made to us to save the lives of children. I have faith that I will be responsible to save the lives of children by participating in race for survival,” said Komal from Pakwarhi area of Islamabad Capital Territory, beaming with excitement.

In Pakistan, where political affairs get more attention by news than the truth about millions of children fighting to survive every day, I was not fully aware of the factual situation about the lives of children in Pakistan when I got a chance to attend Race for Survival, an event commemorated every year on October 17. Through this event, children were given information on insufficient or no access to medicines and skilled health workers, high level of under-nutrition and an uninspiring percentage of children under-five who are stunted. Through the event, children from various schools were made aware about the weak immunisation system in the country. These children had not just remembered the figures by heart; they looked passionate in essentially fighting to change the statistics by racing against the clock.

Pakistan is facing a silent crisis of malnutrition that is amongst the worst in the world and has not improved for decades. According to 2011 National Nutrition Survey, more than 1.5 million children in Pakistan are currently suffering from acute malnutrition, making them susceptible to infectious diseases which may even lead to death. This needs to be urgently addressed in order to safeguard the country’s future development and prosperity. Nearly half of Pakistan’s children are chronically malnourished; undermining their own mental and physical growth as well as the country’s prospects, the respective provincial governments must urgently recognize and respond to this challenge. Without this situation changing, Pakistan risks suffering from a ‘demographic nightmare’ of a growing unskilled, economically unproductive population, rather than the ‘demographic dividend’, which has powered its neighbours ‘growing prosperity.’  The situation of Pakistan is currently worse than that in much of sub-Saharan Africa.  This is a life and death crisis for many but also causes impaired development with long-term effects. Pakistan has lagged behind in the advancement towards achieving MDGs and sadly it has remained a challenge because here, according to a report by Save the Children 352,400 children under-5 die of preventable causes every year. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2012-13 reports the under-5 mortality rate is 89 per 1000 live births and the maternal mortality rate is at an alarming 276 deaths per one 100,000 live births.

Children participating in the Race for Survival were representing different issues with different colours. The children wearing yellow T-Shirts were running to spread awareness on the need of frontline health workers, children in green were indicating the significance of nutrition while the children in blue signified the importance of immunization. It was a colourful reminder. The children were telling their stories in their own words. In an organized running race, the children called for action to save the lives of a large number of children living in Pakistan’s most challenging environments, and created awareness about the urgent need to end preventable child deaths.

Member of the National Assembly, Maiza Hameed, who attended the event took notice of this unfortunate situation and ensured us that she would take this matter to the National Assembly in a loud and bold manner.We can only hope that these children’s genuine efforts are not spared and the government of Pakistan cracks the key barriers of achieving MDGs 4 and 5.