By Shahjahan Khurram
KARACHI: The Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) in collaboration with the White Ribbon Alliance held a half-day workshop at the IBA City Campus to enumerate the various challenges our country faces when it comes to knowledge, awareness and call to action with regard to maternal care and health reporting.
Dr. Asma Badar, the National Campaign Manager for The White Ribbon Alliance educated the audience regarding the abysmal situation of maternal health and care in Pakistan.
She commenced her speech by revealing startling figures about how grave the situation on-ground in the country’s largest province (by size) Balochistan is.
“The infant mortality rate in Balochistan is 800,” she said. “These are figures taken from a couple of years ago which we obtained through national health surveys. The country is set to conduct another survey and the results will not be good,” she added.
She talked about the condition anemia in women, which is defined as a decrease of the red blood cells in the human body. Anemia also occurs when your red blood cells do not contain enough iron that combines with the protein Haemoglobin.
Pregnant women are at greater risk of falling a victim to anemia but Dr Asma said that the condition was also found in adolescent women or those who were of reproductive age.
“In terms of anemic prevalence in women, Pakistan is placed at number 180 out of 185 countries,” she said. “The situation is an appalling one especially when a country like Nigeria, with a plethora of diseases, is placed above you in the list,” she added.
Here’s why you should do everything you can to avoid falling prey to Anemia
Anematic conditions can cause the mother and the child to die during delivery, if haemorrhage occurs. Premature delivery, infant mortality, low birth weight babies and reduced mental capacities of children result due to anemia in mothers.
“Children who are born as a result of mothers who suffer from anemia fall behind in school and are not able to keep up as a result,” said Dr Asma. “Hence, these children are not able to perform well as calculations and subjects get harder in advanced grades and they have to leave school,” she said.
Around the world as well, Anemia has devastating effects on women and their children. For instance, around the world, 12% low birth babies are born as a result of mothers suffering from Anemia. 19% preterm births, 18% perinatal mortality rate is found as a result of the mother suffering from Anemia.
Around the world, the condition of Anemia is found in 1.62 billion people. This means that there are as many as 600,000 perinatal deaths around the world due to Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) and 100,000 maternal deaths.
What causes Anemia?
Dr Asma shed light on a number of factors which must be avoided as they certainly cause the condition in human beings. For one, vitamin B12 deficiency causes red blood cells to decline and this in turn, can result in Anemia.
“Intestinal worms, poor dietary habits as well as inadequate consumption of certain vitamins can cause Anemia,” said Dr Asma.
With regard to poor dietary habits, she stated how the local population was unaware of the fact that tea as well as all milk products were iron blockers.
“After consuming breakfast, lunch or dinner, we have tea always,” she said. “This blocks the absorption of iron and contributes to Anemia,” she added.
She said that it was increasingly becoming difficult for the government to tackle the issue of health in the country owing to the growing population in the country.
“18% of women undergo early marriages in Sindh,” she said. “This further causes stunted growth in the country. In Sindh again, the situation is particularly annoying as the stunted growth stands at 48%,”she said.
Who is at the most risk from Anemia?
According to Dr Asma Badar, pregnant women require increased iron intakes since they are carrying a child. Adolescent women as well as females who are in the reproductive age group (15-49) can easily suffer from the condition.
“These women are given IFA (Iron and Folic Acid) pills by health workers but they do not continue the dosage, which again becomes the reason they fall prey to Anemia,” she said. “Other women are afraid of these black coloured pills and believe in the myth that if they consume them then their child would turn out to have a dark skin tone,” she added.
She laid emphasis on the fact that the government should spend ample resources on repackaging the IFA pills and increase its awareness among the people so that it is regularly consumed by women in Sindh.
There was a brief pause in which journalists from the print, digital and electronic platforms engaged in an interactive discussion to point out how more stories on health could be broadcast on television and other mediums.
Most were of the view that health stories do not contain sensation hence they are not selected by assignment editors.
Kifayat Ali, a renowned reporter for a local TV channel, next addressed participants of the gathering and shared his experiences as a health reporter.
“Health reporters are headed for hospitals whenever a bomb blast or an accident occurs,” he said. “At times it gets dangerous since bomb blasts or attacks also occur at the hospital,” he added.
Kifayat said that health reporters put their blood, sweat and tears into stories but they are often not selected by assignment editors. He said that it was very discouraging for health reporters who drain all their energy and resources into reporting on important health issues which do not make it to the television screens.
He highlighted a number of health diseases that were plaguing the country, placing polio on top.
“Although only a few cases of polio are reported in Pakistan each year but I have placed it at the top of the list since the condition should have been eliminated quite a few years ago,” he said.
Also on the list were diseases such as Malaria, Chicken Gunya and measles. Kifayat Ali went into detail regarding each disease and also shed light on the dismal situation of health dispensaries, clinics, hospitals and maternity wards throughout Sindh.
Why health stories often do not run on the television…
Senior assignment editor at Neo TV, Fazal Mehmood, next took to the podium and gave his perspective on why health stories often did not make it to the television.
“As is the case with everything on TV these days, you have to sell the story,” he said. “Health reporters have to make their stories as attractive as they can in order to ensure that their packages are run on television. That seldom happens these days,” he said.
The speaker further went on to say that there were certain glitches which health reporters were supposed to overcome in order to ensure that their work matches up to the standards.
“Often times, the introduction is not proper or thorough enough,” he said. “I understand it is difficult to summarize a detailed information into a few seconds but at the end of the day, this is what the audience wants and this is what you have to do,” he said.
The speaker stressed on the importance of following up on stories and how health reporters often miss out on keeping up-to-date with past health news stories.
“If you do not follow up on your own stories, then those on the desk think you do not prioritise it yourself,” he said. “Hence, that health story never makes it to the television.”
The session did not end before everyone agreed that in order to report more on health and shed as much light as possible on the subject, awareness reports should be run on all platforms of media as much as possible.