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The vicious circle of low birth weight in Pakistan

Sep 02, 2013

Pakistan has the world’s second highest recorded rate in the world (32 percent), surpassed only by Mauritania which has a rate of 34 percent.

The nurses who emerge from the delivery room at the Ganga Ram Hospital in this eastern Pakistan city early in the morning look tired. They have completed a long shift, and attended to two women giving birth.

“One of the babies, a boy, weighs very little; under 2kg. He will probably not survive,” one of the nurses, who asked not to be named, told IRIN.

Babies born under 2.5kg are classed as having low birth weight (LBW) - and it is a categorization that is far from unusual in Pakistan.

The country has the world’s second highest recorded rate in the world (32 percent), surpassed only by Mauritania which has a rate of 34 percent (data is not available for Afghanistan), according to the UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) 2013 State of the World’s Children report.

“Weight at birth is a good indicator not only of the mother’s health and nutritional status but also of the newborn’s chances for survival, growth, long-term health and psychosocial development,” says UNICEF.

Tests suggest low weight babies will on average have a 5 percent lower IQ.

But the precise reasons for Pakistan’s alarming LBW statistics are not entirely clear.

“The problem is most common among poorer families, but even so these families often eat a reasonable diet - so nutrition alone is not the factor,” said Samina Ahmed, a gynaecologist and obstetrician who has for over 20 years worked at a charitable clinic run for women in Lahore.

“Too many pregnancies, depleting the mother’s body, and a lack of access to birth control for them are probably factors,” she said.

Available evidence indicates that while 96 percent of women who have ever been married are aware of at least one contraceptive method, less than half use it due to a lack of access and advice.

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SOURCE: IRIN

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