The right start for women and children in Pakistan

In the Swabi district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan, rural families gather to take part in the newly launched Right Start Initiative by the High Commission of Canada and Nutrition International.

The small town on the west side of the Indus River, a 90 minute drive from Islamabad, is now home to one of 19 pilot projects across the region.

Canada is spending $5 million between 2017 and 2020 to improve nutrition for pregnant women, newborns, and young children in Pakistan.

Today, women and their families in Swabi will live healthier lives because of this support.

High Commissioner Perry Calderwood and Daniel Joly, Head of Aid at the Canadian High Commission, tour the medical facilities in Swabi, Pakistan.

Right Start for Pakistan

Right Start Initiative will reach women and girls in 19 districts across Pakistan. Up to 275,000 pregnant women will receive iron and folic acid supplements, as recommended by the World Health Organization. This will reduce complications during both pregnancy and delivery from high anemia levels, and help newborns start their lives in better health.

“I must say that this is indeed the ‘Right Start’ today as we all together take a step towards preventing and treating malnutrition among pregnant women and young children.” 

– Shahram Khan Tarakai, Minister of Health, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

The program also aims to provide better nutrition for up to half a million children under two years old. It will focus on increasing birth weights of newborns and decreasing rates of stunting. Stunting is the impaired growth and development of a child due to poor nutrition, and is visible in below average heights. Proper nutrition plays a key role in helping children grow to their full potential, both physically and mentally.

Why Pakistan?

Malnutrition can have devastating impacts on the lives and livelihoods of countless Pakistanis. According to the National Nutrition Survey 2011, about 44% of children in Pakistan are stunted, over half of all pregnant women suffer from anemia, and only one out of every three infants is exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

“Malnutrition takes a toll on individuals and communities. It harms the health of people and hampers economic development”

– Perry Calderwood, High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan

Local health workers brief Canadian officials on their work to save lives.

A nutritious diet is crucial for a child to excel in the classroom. In 2016, 24 million children in Pakistan were not in school, and most of those children were girls.

Girls who achieve higher levels of education, particularly secondary education, are less likely to enter into child, early or forced marriages or have children at an early age. They are better equipped to protect themselves from gender-based violence and bring up healthy children when they are ready.

Girls and boys’ healthy nutrition is vital for a bright future across Pakistan.

“Awareness and leadership are growing – and that is encouraging – but much more action is needed, particularly for women and girls. Right Start Initiative is a sign of our commitment and resolve to support government efforts to tackle this crisis.”

– Joel Spicer, President and CEO of Nutrition International

Canada is proud to support a healthier future for women and children in Pakistan.

Read and share more stories about Canada’s activities around the world - follow Eyes Abroad.