Micronutrient sachets help iron out anaemia in Bhola
By Kamrul Hasan Khan
Bhola, Bangladesh, March 26: When babies should be constantly in motion, testing out their physical abilities at the age of 14-months, skinny Mustafa was rather slow in moving and showed less enthusiasm in everything around him.
His mother, 20-year-old Laizu Begum was worried as her only son did not want to eat and smile was also rare on his face. “He used to be low weight and sick almost all the time and crying too much,” Laizu says at her house at Charfasson in the southern district of Bhola.
But health worker Tania Begum, during her regular door-to-door screening, spotted the baby and instructed Laizu to give him Multiple Micronutrient Powder (MNP) supplement.
The substances of micronutrients enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other essentials for proper growth and development and are needed only in very small amounts.
The MNP for under-two children refers to a mix of critical vitamins and minerals such as iron to prevent anaemia, zinc to mitigate the effects of diarrhoea, iodine to enhance brain development and vitamin A to improve the immune system.
Alarming rate of anaemia
In Bangladesh, the prevalence of malnutrition is very high and is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in children. Nearly 40 per cent of the country’s population live below the poverty line and malnutrition is a constant threat to infant and child health. Some 43.2 per cent of under-five children are stunted.
The first ever National Micronutrients Survey, released in February suggested that anaemia exists in 33 per cent of the preschool aged children. According to data of the Bangladesh Health and Demographic Survey 2007 more than 80 per cent of young infants are anaemic.
Nutrition situation in the country's south, where people are affected by high food prices, is even dire. The impoverished region is also frequently lashed by cyclones and floods that contribute to high rate of migration and widespread job losses.
A 2011 survey on “Protecting and Promoting Food Security and Nutrition for families and children in Bangladesh” found alarmingly high anemia among children under the age of two, with two-thirds of the infants moderately and one-fourth of them severely anemic in Bhola district. Majority of children between one and two years of age were moderately anemic.
Anaemia lowers immunity, inhibits growth, decreases learning ability and work capacity and contributes to low birth weight, say nutrition experts.
“Micronutrients are important for growth, health and development. They are called ’micro‘-nutrients as the body needs them in miniscule amounts, but deficiency of the same can cause serious health problems,” says Anjuman Tahmina Ferdous, Nutrition Officer, UNICEF Barisal.
Health worker Tania Begum explained to Laizu how a single-dose sachet of the MNP can be sprinkled onto any semi-solid family food, one sachet every day.
“Within a month of giving the MNP supplement to my son, I started to notice the differences. Mustafa is now 23-month-old and has completed the MNP course. He is much healthier, very agile and a merrier child. He eats all the more,” Laizu says.
“I am now aware that the MNP supplement helps proper growth of body and brain of children so they are able to concentrate, and work hard. It enhances children's ability to learn,” she adds.
Tania, 23, is one of the 70-plus health workers who visit door-to-door every day in the district to inform and raise awareness among the mothers about the benefits of MNP for their children under a joint programme of the United Nations agencies, sponsored by the government of Spain.
Getting the message across
Under the project, health workers in Bhola have identified around 6,000 children aged six to 23 months, who have been supported with distribution of MNP sachets and convinced mothers and community people to attend fortnightly courtyard sessions that disseminate health awareness messages.
The courtyard sessions aim at teaching mothers about food and nutrition, anaemia prevention and control, infant and young child feeding and hygiene and sanitation.
“These sessions have been a great source of learning for me. Now, I know much better how to cook a healthy meal at a cheap cost, what food I should give to my child, and how important it is to maintain hygiene for good health,” Laizu says.
She also adds, “It is very important to diversify food for the babies as they grow very fast. So, I give Mustafa vegetables, seasonal fruits, fish, meat, pulse, milk and other family food so that he has all the essential nutrition. But ensuring hygiene is equally important.”