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Therapeutic Feeding Centre to help malnourished children opens in Earthquake Affected Area

© UNICEF/PAKA01701D/Zaidi
A malnourished child being attended by the nursing staff at the UNICEF supported Therapeutic Feeding Centre.

By Irene Sanchez

Nearly 50 percent of children are underweight in the earthquake affected areas of Pakistan according to one estimate. Following the disaster on October 8 2005, the mass displacement of people from their homes and into camps, the resultant inadequate access to food and water, the cold weather and the inevitability of many infections have all had an impact on the nutritional status of thousands of children. In regard to severely malnourished children, the picture is not too alarming so far, but nevertheless the health authorities, UNICEF and key partners have taken steps to protect children from the devastating impact of malnutrition.

In a joint effort, UNICEF and International Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) have assisted the Ministry of Health to set up a Therapeutic Feeding Centre (TFC) in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan administered Kashmir (PAK), the town at  the epicentre of the earthquake.  With the TFC’s opening any severely malnourished children identified have a second chance at life.

The first of its kind, the TFC has been established in the grounds of Abbas Hospital. The hospital survived the earthquake intact, and is today again a bustling facility serving 1.2 million people. Consisting of two large tents, the TFC has a capacity for 20 patients. Nurses have been specially trained, and therapeutic food and equipment have been provided to the facility.

“Malnutrition in all its forms can have terrible consequences for a child’s life,” Dr. John Egbuta, UNICEF Nutrition Officer, says. “A malnourished child gradually loses all his/her energy and is then predisposed to diarrhea, acute respiratory infection and measles. Also the physical and mental development are affected.” Doctor Bashir-ur-Rehamn, the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer says, “Malnutrition is a public health problem and the TFC was urgently needed here…UNICEF has helped us to make this happen.”

© UNICEF/PAKA01695D/Zaidi
Shazia, 13 months, is severely malnourished and given therapeutic milk by her mother.

One of seven patients currently in the TFC, Shazia Bibi is 13 months old. On being admitted her weight was 4.4 kgs. (The ideal weight for a child of this age is 10-15 kgs.) After just two days of caring and therapeutic feeding Shazia has gained a whole 0.2 kgs.

Shazia was referred to the TFC from the ICRC tent hospital, where her mother, Jalila, had taken her to join other children in the same condition: weak and suffering multiple infections.  Sitting by Shazia’s side, Jalila tells how she has five more children waiting at home and says, “I worry about them. My husband is working, but we lost our house in the disaster and now we are living with other relatives. I know my children at home also need me.”

Jalila’s description of how Shazia started to lose weight once she was weaned from exclusive breastfeeding at age of seven months shows clearly how lack of food and inappropriate breastfeeding put children in the first months their life at high risk.

Before the earthquake struck Pakistan last year, the national breastfeeding rate was 93 percent. In the earthquake-affected areas of the country it has gone down in recent months though, as the trauma of deaths and illnesses, the difficulties of displacement, the inadequate food supplies have impacted on many women’s ability to maintain exclusive breastfeeding for their infants. For Jalila, learning about Shazia’s malnourished status does not come as a surprise as she recognizes that all her children have lost weight, but the older children show more resilience and have recovered better than the baby.

“In our rural communities the levels of poverty and illiteracy also affect children’s nutrition” says one of the TFC nurses, Ulfat Sajjad, “A woman who has not benefited from education may not know how to take care and feed her children.”

To redress this, UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health to open 50 supplementary feeding centres in villages nearby over the next 3 months. “Identification and treatment of underweight children in their own villages will help us to reduce cases of severe malnutrition” Doctor Egbuta explains.

NOTE.  Despite care and therapeutic feeding, Shazia couldn’t combat pneumonia.  She was transferred to a hospital in Islamabad and now she is struggling for survival.

 

 

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