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Fisheries: neglect in curbing malnutrition in Pakistan

Fisheries: neglect in curbing malnutrition in Pakistan

By Nadia Nazish and Khalid Abbas

Department of Zoology, Wildlife and Fisheries, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad


FAISALABAD: The fisheries resources play a significant role in economic welfare, income generation, employment and food security of a country. Global fish production was recorded 82.6 million tonnes in 2011 and 79.7 million tonnes in 2012. Worldwide average per capita fish consumption was increased from 9.9 kg in the 1960s to 19.2 kg in 2012. In Pakistan, per capita fish consumption is two kg, which is the lowest in all over the world. In Pakistan, annual fish production is 0.6 million tonnes wherever 53% came from marine resources and 37% from inland share resources. While 50% of total production is consumed domestically and 20% is exported. There are 531 fish species present in Pakistan out of them 233 are of fresh water.

Cereal is considered the main staple food in the Pakistani diet which provides 62% of total energy. The milk consumption is significant in Pakistan rather than consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat as compared to other Asian countries. Lack of organized marketing facilities is considered the main constraint in production as well as in consumption of fruit and vegetables in Pakistan. The vital factor for the micronutrient deficiency disorders is the fluctuations in the availability of food stuff. Undue nutrient intakes, excessive and unbalanced food is closely associated with the changes in lifestyle, including stress and less physical activities.

Nutritionists pointed out that fish must be included in our diets due to low fat, high digestible protein and an excellent source of low caloric sources of many nutrients. On fresh weight basis, fish contains 13-25% good quality of protein and also comprised of all the eight essential amino acids including the sulphur containing lysine, methionine, and cysteine. The fat content varies from 0.2- 25%. Fish, meat consists of about 15-36% saturated fatty acids and 58-85% unsaturated fatty acids. Fatty fish is considered the  main source of  polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), omega 3 fatty acids and  EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which are necessary for appropriate growth of children. Regarding their essentiality, the presence of PUFAs in pregnant women’s diets cause the proper development of the brain in unborn babies. The omega 3 plays a vital role in mitigating risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight.

Since DHA is a major component of the brain, eye retina and heart muscle, DHA has been considered as important for brain and eye development and also good cardiovascular health. EPA has also been reported to be useful in brain disorders and cancer treatment. Fish lipids are a good source of EPA and DHA. However, pregnant and nursing mothers have been recommended that EPA content should be low because it causes bleeding.

Fatty fish is a rich source of vitamins, particularly vitamins A and D, as well as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin (vitamins B1, Band B3). Comparatively, fatty fish contains more vitamin A than lean species. Vitamin A reduced the risk of mortality in children under five. Fish liver and fish oil is the main source of Vitamin D which is crucial for the development of bone in children as well as for absorption and calcium metabolism. Thiamin, riboflavin and niacin are essential for energy metabolism. Vitamin C plays a role in healing of wounds, helps in the absorption of iron in the human body and maintenance of normal health of body tissues. Fish consist of following minerals such as zinc, iodine, iron, calcium, selenium, phosphorus and fluorine. Fish is also an exceptional source of selenium. The amount of selenium in fish varies between 0.02 and 0.06 mgs per 100g fish flesh.

In Pakistan, factors such as poverty, inflation, illiteracy and price volatility, unemployment, lack of proper hygiene, substandard health facilities, clean water, sanitation systems, conflicts, economic turmoil, climate change, disasters are making the task of achieving food security difficult. It is also especially due to lack of interest by the government and health care providing authorities. It is a recognized health problem in Pakistan and plays a significant role in the country’s elevated child morbidity and mortality rates.

According to the (WHO), obesity is the fifth leading risk and is considered the main cause of death, especially in adult with a range of 2.8 million in all over the world. According to the National Nutrition Survey in 2011, the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate in the province of Baluchistan (16.1%), Punjab (13.7%) and Sindh is 17.5% and the Severely Acute Malnutrition (SAM) is 6.6 %. Chronic Malnutrition, which could cause stunting, is 49.8 %. The GAM rate in Tharparkar District is even higher at 22.7 % and the Chronic Malnutrition is 45.9 %. These statistics present a serious situation and calls for a swift action by the government and its partners to improve the nutritive standard of children and women. Among the upper most micronutrient deficiency disorders are pertain to Iron, calcium, iodine, vitamin-A, vitamin-D and Zinc.

Women were found more susceptible to micronutrient deficiency. In 2011 about 16% of pregnant women were reported to have been malnourished. Among them ≈ 51% of pregnant women were anemic, 47.6 % of zinc deficiency, 46 % agonized with vitamin A deficiency and 68.9 % susceptible to deficiency of vitamin D. While non-pregnant women were less vulnerable to malnutrition revealing that  ≈ 50.4 % of were anemic, 41.3 % was suffering from A deficiency and 66.8 % was allied to vitamin D deficiency. In case of mother, these values stand at: Anemia 51%, vitamin A deficiency 42%, iron deficiency anemia 37%, vitamin D deficiency 67%, zinc deficiency 41% and calcium deficiency 52%

Realizing the significance of fish to human diet and its role in diminishing poverty and hunger, it has great influence on enlightening the nutritional status of households, particularly, among children 0-2 years, school aged children and under five year children. Multi-sectoral approach should be used to handle the problem of malnutrition, not focusing only on  the health and food departments. It needs to be over-emphasized that interventions in combating malnutrition go a long way towards a healthy and productive nation. So, the research would be conducted to realize the importance of fish in improving the per capita fish consumption, in reducing malnutrition and upgrading the health conditions of the people of Pakistan. It is widely known that fisheries have the capability: if it is developed and maintained in a good manner to perform ecological and socially responsilbility, to address all the environmental challenges and further pay a great contribution towards the extermination of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in Pakistan.

Being a facilitator and regulator, the role of the Government of Pakistan is to provide coherence among measures adopted for the fisheries sector with those in practice in other sectors, especially in livestock and agriculture. Hence, the state must promote environmental conservation and adopt measures to prevent damage to aquatic biodiversity by pollution and environmental degradation. It is direly needed to establish institutions and enhance human capabilities to implement the fisheries policy and support the overall development of the fisheries and aquaculture sector. In this regard training facilities and programs are urgently needed to equip the fishery personnel with the latest knowledge on the subject. It is direly needed to strengthen the capacity of institutions, communities and individuals for effective planning, delivery and monitoring of nutrition interventions.