Closure of nutrition rehabilitation centre puts children’s lives at riskRapti Academy of Health Sciences has been fraught with irregularities since its establishment last year.
Aarushi Chaudhary was diagnosed with severe malnutrition last month.
The three-year-old girl from Dhanibagiya of Ghorahi Sub-metropolitan City, Dang, weighed just eight kilograms when she was brought to a local health facility.
She needed immediate medical intervention. So the health workers suggested Aarushi’s mother, Laxmi, to take her daughter to the nutrition rehabilitation centre run by Rapti Academy of Health Sciences, what was formerly Rapti Zonal Hospital.
But when Laxmi reached the academy with her emaciated baby girl, paediatricians told her that the academy’s nutrition rehabilitation centre was no longer in operation, that the facility was closed down six months ago.
Laxmi was, for the second time, advised by health officials to seek her daughter’s treatment elsewhere—this time either in Nepalgunj or Butwal.
The academy’s nutrition rehabilitation centre was one of 22 such facilities opened by the Ministry of Health and Population throughout the country. Today, it serves as the academy’s guest house.
According to Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the ministry, the nutrition rehabilitation at Rapti Academy of Health Sciences is one of the many services that have been disrupted ever since the institution was established last year.
“The academy was set up to provide additional and quality services. But patients are now deprived of several services,” Shrestha told the Post.
The ministry has formed a five-member team to investigate into the irregularities reported in the academy.
Dr Arjun Sapkota, a member of the probe team, said that patients from Dang and other nearby districts have been directly affected by the poor state of the academy.
“Doctors at the hospital are referring patients to Tulsipur, Nepalgunj, or Butwal,” Sapkota told the Post.
Health workers say the most concerning thing is the academy’s decision to close down the nutrition rehabilitation centre because malnutrition is still an issue that the country is struggling to address.
According to the 2016 Nepal Demographic Health Survey, 36 percent of children under five years of age in the country suffer from chronic malnutrition (stunting or low height-for-weight) and 10 percent suffer from acute malnutrition (wasting or low weight-for-height). Another 27 percent of children are underweight and one percent are overweight.
Closure of the nutrition rehabilitation centre has affected the treatment of undernourished children from Dang, Rolpa, Rukum (East), Rukum (West), Salyan and Pyuthan. Every month, the centre used to treat over 30 children from these districts.
Laxmi Gaire, who was in charge of the now closed nutrition rehabilitation centre, said that the academy forcefully shut the facility.
“All eight staff nurses and dieticians including myself were relieved of our duties. The academy has not officially declared the centre’s closure, but malnourished children are not treated here anymore,” Gaire told the Post.
Kedar Parajuli, chief of the nutrition section under the Family Welfare Division of the Department of Health Services, says children having cleft-lip or cleft palate, who have difficulty eating and swallowing, have been affected the most by the closure of the nutrition rehabilitation centre.
“The nutrition rehabilitation centre used to provide treatment to such children and refer them to hospitals for surgery after making them healthy. Now these children are deprived of treatment,” said Parajuli. “We cannot reduce the existing malnutrition rate by closing nutrition rehabilitation centres.”
Meanwhile, the condition of baby Aarushi remains the same. Her mother, Laxmi, could not take her to Nepalgunj or Butwal.
“The doctors told me that I had to admit Aarushi to a nutrition rehabilitation centre. But since I have another daughter to look after at home, I could not take Aarushi outside the district. I would not have faced this situation if only Rapti Academy of Health Sciences was functioning properly,” Laxmi told the Post over the phone.