Habib University’s Yohsin Center for Social Development held a Teach-in on April 9th called “Death by Design: Malnutrition and Health Crisis in Tharparkar”. Comprised of a panel discussion held by some of the most respected names in the field, the Teach-in was moderated by the Interim Dean of the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS), Dr. Asif Aslam Farrukhi, and Dr. Aaron Mulvany, Assistant Professor at AHSS.
Addressing the students and the general public, the panel, which comprised of Dr. Shereen Narejo, Dr. Sonu Khanagrani and Dr. Tanveer Ahmad, discussed the issues most frequently connected to the region of Tharparkar, and what measures are being taken to prevent them. Each panelist revealed their findings and personal experiences from their stints in Tharparkar, as part of the Health sector or relative government organizations. Given that Tharparkar is a remote area that most view as a “desert land”, there is a severe lack of availability of basic needs to the population residing there. Factors such as lack of water, transportation, health services, and education were talked about in detail, with each panelist adding to the social and cultural situation in the region and the problems that derive from the lack of each.
“Historically, people have migrated to Tharparkar from all across the region, from far away villages in the interior in Sindh, to Balochistan and the like. People would rush to Tharparkar to remove themselves from war-ridden areas, and hide there. That is how communities were built. Over time, the region of Tharparkar has become very vegetative. The state is not a remote desert area, and we have to do our bit to change this perspective”, said Dr. Sonu Khanagrani. Adding to this the fact that the residents of Tharparkar are dependent on livestock, and the weather, it is natural that it has been the target of so many famines and droughts. The region is known to have only two sources of water, i.e, wells, and rain water. In the last few decades, Tharparkar has faced a record number of droughts, and their basic form of trade is livestock, which is a cause for concern as that is the only means of their food as well.
Dr. Tanveer Sheikh added to this further, discussing the aspect of malnutrition and the abysmal rate of mortality in children in the area. “Four hundred and eighty one children have died, while still under the age of five, in the last 5 years. While the national mortality rate if 67 out of 1000, the under 5 Child Mortality rate is at a horrifying 87. This is due to many factors, one of which is malnutrition of the mother, lack of health services and government facilitation for mothers, and the utter lack of immunization accessibility for the children there. As per the Pakistan Health Survey, 450,000 children die in the Sindh region every year from primary illnesses, like pneumonia, diarrhea or the measles. This is a highly alarming situation, and adds to the national state of affairs which, on average, is no better”.
Due to malnutrition, it is deduced that 58.7% of the population of children in the region of Tharparkar have stinted growth, given that they are chronically malnourished and face physical and mental disabilities later in life. As Dr. Shereen put it, “We must broaden our perspectives, as members of the same society, and get to the root societal causes of this situation. The Health sector needs to be more proactive, as it has a pivotal role to play. We see our medical schools filled with women doctors, but only 30% of them pursue medicine as a career after their education, and this is a massive cause of concern for the region of Tharparkar especially given that pregnant women actually need consent by their male guardians to be looked over by doctors”. Adding to this the fact that there, even after government intervention that provided access to cities, roads, transportation and the like, poverty is an issue in the region, paints a glum picture for the region that has become synonymous with malnutrition, child-deaths and lack of basic needs.