The Pakistani population, especially women and children, has among the highest rates of under-nutrition in the world. The prevalence of chronic malnutrition and stunting among children under five is 43.7 percent. Pakistan also has the second highest prevalence of severely wasted children, with global acute malnutrition rates of 17 percent.
These are the staggering statistics that drive the Abaseen Foundation to support the people of Pakistan through various projects and fundraising initiatives. UCLan has been working with the Abaseen Foundation for around 10 years in helping to facilitate these projects, including an ongoing initiative called Pennies from Heaven which has been running for several years and sees employees at UCLan donating the pennies from their monthly wage to the charity.
Nicola Lowe, Professor of Nutritional Sciences and Co-Director of the International Institute of Nutritional Science and Food Safety Studies at UCLan, leads on the projects alongside colleagues from UCLan; Dr Mick McKeown, Prof Fiona Dykes, and Dr Pamela Qualter, the Abaseen Foundation, and researchers in Pakistan. Nicola’s expertise lie in micronutrients such as zinc and iron, which are essential for human survival. It’s with this knowledge that Nicola has conducted research alongside colleagues in the UK and Pakistan into the challenges and opportunities of Nutrition Policy in the country.
This research is driven by the primary concerns identified by the communities they are helping, and has involved developing nutrition support services at a local hospital, intervening where children are diagnosed with malnutrition, supplying nutrients, and providing education for mums around breastfeeding and weening foods. Projects have also provided education on cooking and making the best use of the food that is available to the communities so they can be self-sufficient in the future and don’t need to rely on expensive supplements. The next piece of research is about to begin around the effect that providing school lunches has on improving children’s cognitive development.
The newest initiative developed by the charity and the University involves supporting two schools in very poor and marginalised communities in North West Pakistan. One of which was built by the Abaseen Foundation and is based on the brick kilns, where children, particularly the girls, wouldn’t otherwise have access to education. With the support of Interim Vice-Chancellor Mike Thomas, UCLan has proposed plans to support two children each year from these schools to gain a fully funded scholarship to study at UCLan.
At least one of these scholarships will go to a girl, as girls in these communities generally don’t have the opportunity to study past primary school level. The proposal also puts forward a PhD scholarship for a UK based student of Pakistani heritage to travel to Pakistan and undertake research that will benefit the health and wellbeing of these communities. This postgraduate scholarship is planned to be available to a new student every three years.
Professor Lowe commented on the work done with the Abaseen Foundation: “The challenges we face in Pakistan relating to poverty and malnutrition are immense but we can, and have already, made a real difference in these marginalised communities by working in partnership with community leaders and members.
“It is a privilege to work with the Abaseen Foundation, and as an academic at UCLan, I appreciate all the support that UCLan has given me over the years to do this important research. These new student scholarships, offered by UCLan, are very exciting and will hopefully inspire the next generation of researchers to continue this work into the future.”
For more information on the work of the Abaseen Foundation