KARACHI: Dozens of children under the age of five are daily dying in Sindh due to nutritional deficiencies and its complications, but their lives can be saved by educating their parents, especially mothers, on giving them “cheap but balanced diet”, providing safe drinking water and improving hygienic conditions in and around their abodes, health experts said.
“Children with severe iron deficiency anemia or low hemoglobin levels are daily brought to my OPD and when I ask their parents to feed them iron-rich food, they complain of their inability to buy beef and mutton. Unfortunately, the majority of them can afford to feed leafy vegetables and dates to their children, but they don’t give a balanced diet to children, resulting in severe and acute malnutrition among them,” said Dr Saqib Ansari, consultant pediatric hematologist, while commenting on growing iron deficiency anemia among children in Sindh.
Billions of rupees were being spent annually by the government of Sindh and donor agencies, including the World Bank, Unicef, World Food Program and USAID, for the last six years to improve nutritional status of mothers and children since the National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011 found that over 60 per cent of children were malnourished in the province but with each passing day the nutritional deficiency status of children was worsening in the province, health experts said.
Recurrent stomach infections, including diarrhea, due to the consumption of unsafe drinking water and contaminated food was one of the major reasons behind acute malnutrition among children even in the provincial capital Karachi, but neither the government nor the people themselves were concerned about providing and using safe drinking water, which not only prevented water-borne illnesses but also prevented acute malnutrition among young children, Dr Ansari said.
On the other hand, parents are relying more on processed food, powdered and packaged milk and children, which lack basic micronutrients, including iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin A and D, Zinc and Iodine, Dr Saqib said, adding that these micronutrients are vital for the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to cells and its presence in the blood determines if a child is getting healthy diet or not.
“Chicken sold at every nook and corner of the city contains no or very minute quantity of iron and other micronutrients, which are required for the production of blood in the children,” Dr Ansari said and urged the parents not to overfeed their children with chicken and its products.
He said children required red meat, including beef and mutton, which were the building blocks of their cells and tissues while white meat, including chicken, was the diet of elderly and sick patients.
“Similarly, excessive use of milk, biscuits, potato chips and other junk is another reason behind malnutrition among children. If you can’t afford beef and mutton for your children, kindly give them home-cooked vegetables, including spinach, carrots, beans, radish, turnips and leafy vegetables.”
Sindh produces abundance of dates and it contains a large quantity of iron, Dr Ansari said, adding that three to four dates a day could successfully overcome iron deficiency anemia among children in the province.
The growing use of gutka and other forms of tobacco is also resulting in severe malnutrition among young children and teenagers in Sindh, claimed Dr Ansari, saying these deadly products suppress appetites and also prevent absorption of micronutrients in the body through intestines as they cover the linings of the intestines and prevent food to become part of the body.
“The habit of eating gutka and tobacco chewing has emerged as another reason behind malnutrition among children as young as five years and teenagers in Sindh. These things not only cause oral cancer but also destroy body’s immunity by causing nutritional deficiencies among children.”
An eminent pediatrician and director of the National Institute of Children Health (NICH), Prof Dr Jamal Raza, termed lack of awareness among mothers and parents as the “biggest” cause of acute malnutrition among young children instead of poverty, saying even wealthy and well-to-do parents were giving junk and unbalanced food to their children, resulting in malnutrition.
“Mothers are getting wrong information and they are wrongly feeding their children. Instead of giving healthy and balanced diet to their children over the age of two years, they are giving them excessive amount of buffalo or powdered milk, which is resulting in severe anemia among them.”
Dr Raza maintained that even the mothers from low socioeconomic groups were giving biscuits, potato chips, candies and artificial juices, which were not only resulting in nutritional deficiencies but also contained allergy-causing agents and were not suitable for the health of young children.
“Home-cooked food comprising vegetables, ghee or makhan (butter), wheat flour, lentils and beans is the excellent diet for the children above the age of two years and fulfills all the nutritional requirements of children. Safe drinking water and improving hygienic is also vital for people of all ages including children.”