Countrywide initiative launched to improve maternal nutrition in Pakistan

Nutrition International and Pakistan’s Ministry of Health launched NourishMaa to improve maternal nutrition in six districts with poor indicators. It focuses on building the capacity of healthcare providers and frontline health workers.

“Improving the knowledge and capacity of healthcare providers to address maternal nutrition issues and promote a collective responsibility approach is the need of the hour,” said Mirza Nasiruddin Mashhood Ahmad, Special Secretary NHS, while speaking at the launching ceremony of the campaign.

Endorsing the NourishMaa campaign and committing to its effective implementation, Dr Ahmad referenced the Pakistan National Maternal Nutrition Strategy 2022-27, which calls for increasing awareness about maternal nutrition among individuals, families, communities, healthcare providers, policymakers and the public at large.

According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, it is estimated that 42% of Pakistani women of reproductive age (WRA, 15-49 years) bear the triple burden of malnutrition, with half of all pregnant women being anaemic, and 38% of them being overweight and obese. Additionally, one in every two (54%) adolescent girl (10-19 years) is anaemic in the country.

High rates of malnutrition among WRA and adolescent girls, coupled with underlying complications arising from early marriages, closely spaced pregnancies and maternal malnutrition exacerbate a vicious cycle of high morbidity and mortality, leading to adverse maternal and child health outcomes.

The NourishMaa campaign, developed to support the Pakistan Maternal Nutrition Strategy 2022-27, aims to help address these issues by leveraging the critical role of HCPs and FLWs.

The key objective of the campaign is to raise awareness about the importance of maternal nutrition and improve the capacities of health workers in public and private sectors, key opinion leaders (KOLs) and other stakeholders to advance maternal nutrition interventions in Pakistan.

The campaign aims to achieve some specific outcomes, including improved knowledge among HCPs and FHWs on maternal nutrition, effective engagement of key HCPs on maternal nutrition, and improved knowledge and motivation among KOLs for accelerating action towards enhancing maternal nutrition at the national and provincial levels. The campaign is being implemented in two districts of Punjab and four districts of Sindh by Nutrition International in collaboration with the MoNHSR&C, the provincial departments of Health, the Professional Medical Association and the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecologist Pakistan.

During the launch of the campaign, Dr Shabina Raza, Nutrition International Pakistan Country Director, emphasised the critical need for investing in maternal nutrition.

“Addressing maternal malnutrition is one of Nutrition International’s top priorities, with a focus on providing nutrition counseling, micronutrient supplementation, and quality care for a positive pregnancy and safe birth.” she said.

“Though it the campaign is being implemented in select districts of Punjab and Sindh, the NourishMaa campaign has the potential to scale up nationally and help break the cycle of malnutrition by improving the maternal and child health outcomes in the country.”

“The campaign is unique in the sense that it contributes in developing an enabling environment for maternal nutrition and directly works with the health service providers, increasing their knowledge and motivation towards addressing maternal malnutrition”, said Dr Baseer Achakzai, Director General (Health), MoNHSR&C. During the launch event, an audio anthem of the NourishMaa campaign was premiered to promote the campaign among stakeholders.

The two-year campaign seeks to influence HCPs/FHWs and KOLs, and improve their knowledge, capacity and motivation through interpersonal communication and targeted media outreach, including social media campaigns, talk shows, campaign ambassadors, seminars, meetings, and conferences at the provincial and district levels, to effectively engage them on maternal nutrition at the national level and in targeted regions, resulting in improved maternal nutrition indicators in the country.

The event was attended by over 100 participants, including Ms Berenice Guimont Fitz Second Secretary, Development Canadian High Commission to Pakistan, Ms Zeina Sifri, Senior Program Officer – Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and Gender Equality Division, Dr Sabin Nasir, Additional Director Operations, IRMNCH&NP Punjab, Dr Farhana Memon, Additional Director General RMNCH, DoH, Sindh, Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro, Secretary General, Pakistan Medical Association, Prof Dr Tazeen Fatima Munim, Secretary General Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists Pakistan and many others.