By Aftab Hamid
Advocacy efforts by White Ribbon Alliance Pakistan (WRA Pakistan) and other stakeholders has moved the Sindhi Government in Pakistan to consider a 25% budget increase to the health sector with a specific focus on improving nutrition, a key cause of maternal and newborn health complications.
This commitment was made by the Provincial Health Minister of Sindh, Dr. Sikander Ali Mandharo, while meeting the WRA Pakistan delegation that was delivering a petition signed by more than 100,000 residents of Sindh demanding improved maternal health in their province. The WRA Pakistan delegation officially presented the petition shield and signatures to the minister at his chambers on behalf of the people.
“The Sindh Government is fully committed to improve the coverage of iron and folic acid among adolescent girls and mothers in the province by 2018,” said Dr. Mandharo, who proposed a 25% increase in budgetary allocations for the department of health for the next fiscal year.”
Dr. Mandharo added that under the accelerated action plan, the Sindh Government would support all three of the community’s demands called for in the petition. They are:
- Availability and timely release of funds for iron and folic acid for all pregnant and lactating mothers in Sindh;
- Ensuring the improvement of health and nutrition counseling services for women and;
- Development and implementation of policies focused on the health and nutrition of girls.
Citizens from 16 districts across the Sindh region signed the petition, which was a focal point of WRA Pakistan’s three-month campaign to raise awareness about the problem of maternal anemia and identify effective steps to solve the problem.
WRA Pakistan held the petition handover ceremony in Sindh on 23rd May 2017 at Avari Towers Hotel, Karachi. The event was attended by government dignitaries, development partners, Civil Society Organisations, SUN CSA members, Media, Youth representatives and academia. It was chaired by Dr. Iqbal Chandio (MNCHP Sindh Provincial Director) along with Dr. Gull Sheikh (LHWP Provincial Director), Dr. Fahim Aijaz (Deputy Director General Health Department Sindh) and Dr. Fauzia Khan (Head of Curriculum wing, Sindh Education Department).
WRA Pakistan and other maternal health advocates used the petition as part of a larger campaign to end maternal anemia, which grew from findings of a 2011 National Nutrition Survey (NNS), which showed that 62% of non-pregnant women and 59% of pregnant women are anemic in Sindh region.
Anemia during pregnancy often leads to low birth weight, premature birth and maternal death and is a common pregnancy complication, especially in developing countries.
In his keynote speech, Dr. Gull Sheikh, provincial director of the Sindh Lady Health Worker Programme, emphasized that maternal deaths due to maternal anemia in Sindh was an alarming situation and called upon others to join hands to fight it. He said that health was among the government priorities and promised that every effort will be made to secure the health rights of Sindh citizens. He congratulated White Ribbon Alliance Pakistan on raising awareness and running a successful petition drive that was inaugurated by the Health Minister himself in November 2016.