By Rajat Madhok
MAAFUSHI, Maldives, 17 May 2012 – Fathimath Nafsa takes her 2-year-old son Ismail Nashiu to the local health center on Maafushi Island for a check-up. The doctors want to monitor his growth because he is malnourished and underweight. His mother is concerned that Ismail may not grow to his full potential.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Rajat Madhok reports on malnutrition among children in Maldives and efforts to improve child malnutrition. Watch in RealPlayer|
She and her husband spend hours trying to feed Ismail, but he often grows irritable and refuses food. "He stays cranky and doesn't eat enough food. He also doesn't play often with other children, and we are concerned about his growth," says Ms. Nafsa.
Malnutrition widespread among children
Ismail, like many other children in the country, is undernourished and stunted.
Although the country has already achieved five of the eight Millennium Development Goals, including the goal of reducing the number of people suffering from hunger, nearly 17 per cent of its children remain underweight and up to 19 per cent suffer from stunting or low height-to-age ratio.
|© UNICEF video|
|A mother and her child enter a health clinic in Maafushi, Maldives.|
Contributing to this problem is the fact that few children are exclusively breastfed. Though both UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, surveys suggest that less than 50 per cent of children are exclusively breastfed this long. The average duration of exclusive breast feeding is less than two and a half months.
Feeding other kinds of milk to infants under 6 months old is a common practice here. A micronutrient survey conducted in 2007 showed that 81 per cent of children had received other liquids before 6 months of age. These practices can affect children’s mental and physical development.
Additionally, lack of a proper diet has meant that more than a quarter of Maldivian children between 6 months to 5 years old are anaemic, and nearly 60 per cent of children suffer from iron deficiency.
|© UNICEF video|
|Patients wait to be seen at a health clinic in Maafushi, Maldives.|
Working with the government
UNICEF is supporting the government’s efforts to reduce the numbers of malnourished children like Ismail.
According to Zeba Bukhari, UNICEF Representative in Maldives, the matter requires immediate attention. "Undernutrition is a big concern for us, and we are assisting the government in formulating the national 5-year Nutrition Plan. We are also supporting the government in helping people change the way they think about their children's health and nutritious diets. We will also closely monitor results of interventions in the hope that the next five years will address this concern significantly."
Back on Maafushi Island, Ms. Nafsa prepares a homemade paste of local spices hoping that it will help Ismail grow. Ismail’s father brings him on a walk along the beach, keeping him entertained. Still, Ismail struggles to find the appetite to eat.