Malnutrition taking its toll in Parsa. Experts blame poverty and ignoranceThe children of poor communities and Dalits are highly vulnerable to malnutrition in Madhes Province.
Seven-year-old Dil Kumari Pahari, a resident of Chandrapur Municipality-8 in Rautahat district, was taken to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home at the Birgunj-based Narayani Hospital on June 14 in a critical condition. Dil Kumari, who belongs to the impoverished Pahari community, was diagnosed with severe malnutrition.
“The child was found suffering from severe malnutrition due to a lack of nutritious food. Her body was swollen when she was brought to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home. And there were problems in all her vital organs, except the kidney,” said Sarita Yadav, the chief at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home. The girl, according to Yadav, weighed 22.7 kg when she was brought there.
Dil Kumari was brought to Judibela Health Post by a local teacher who had gone to Phulbari settlement in Chandrapur as part of a school enrollment programme. The health post later referred the girl to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Birgunj.
The girl is receiving treatment at the paediatric unit of Narayani Hospital.
“She is also suffering from anaemia. We gave her a blood transfusion. Her condition is gradually improving. We will keep her at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home until she gets better and make provisions for nutritious food after she is discharged from the hospital,” said Yadav. According to her, victims of severe malnutrition like Dil Kumari may die if they do not get timely treatment.
Dil Kumari’s father Aadu Bahadur, aged 65, has been languishing in the hospital as an attendant to his ailing daughter. He said his wife died three months ago due to stomach cancer.
“I have three children, including Dil Kumari. We have just about 1,500 sq ft of land. What I grow in the fields is not enough to feed the family. I am old and jobless. So I am unable to provide nutritious foods to my children,” said Aadu Bahadur. According to him, he somehow manages to bring home rice that they consume with salt but he never feeds milk to his children. “Except for breast milk, my children have never tasted milk in their life,” he added.
Malnutrition is a serious health challenge in Madhes Province mainly due to poverty and a lack of awareness among guardians regarding nourishing food needed for a child’s growth. The children of poor communities and Dalits are especially vulnerable to malnutrition in the province.
“The main cause of malnutrition is a lack of awareness among the guardians. They are unaware of the importance of nourishing food required for the overall growth of the children. They do not take their wards to health institutions unless they fall ill seriously due to malnutrition,” said Yadav. According to her, most families in the province eat potatoes for vegetables which are low in nutrients.
“People generally offer packaged foods like noodles and biscuits to their kids. Even the guardians who have the ability to provide nutritious foods to their children are found to be reluctant to provide nutritional foods like milk, yoghurt, egg and meat,” she said.
According to Yadav, the nutrition home identifies malnourished children on the basis of the latest standard set by the World Health Organisation. As per the standard, the height of a newborn should generally be 50cm and it should increase by 25cm, 12.5cm and 12.5cm in the next three years, respectively.
The Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Narayani Hospital was established in 2006. Thirteen malnourished children from various districts of Madhes are currently undergoing treatment at the 10-bed nutritional home.
As many as 170 children—88 male and 82 female—were brought to the Birgunj-based Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in the current fiscal year of 2021-22. Among them, nine are below the age of six months, 96 are between 6-24 months, 45 are between 25-60 months and 20 are above 60 months.