Surviving A Scare

Almost giving up hope for the survival of their child, a mother in Afghanistan goes the extra mile seeking treatment for her severely acutely malnourished child to live a healthier life.

Ahmad Nawid Qarizada
28 January 2020

Nangarhar, Afghanistan, 23 January 2020 – One-and-a-half-year-old Gulbadin and his family left Noorgul district of Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, due to insecurity, lack of employment, scarcity of food, and not having a breadwinner, to settle in Daman area in Behsood district of Nangarhar, five months ago.

Gulbadin’s father who is a former soldier in the Afghanistan national army, has been serving a prison term of 1.5 years for a legal case, leaving the family of seven members at the mercy of donations from the community members, often with very little to go by.

Gulbadin, who was born in Noorgul district, was quite frail at birth. As the family’s plight worsened with the struggle to survive as internally displaced people (IDPs), the overall physical health of Gulbadin deteriorated. He was brought by his mother, 31 year- old Bibi, to the Nangarhar Regional Hospital with severe wasting, (very low weight for height), along with complications including pneumonia, diarrhea and light fever.

During the physical and other required examination, the staff at the hospital found that the child, Gulbadin, was in a very critical condition - he could barely stand up - and was immediately admitted to the Therapeutic Feeding Unit (TFU) of the pediatric ward.  His middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) – a standard procedure to measure the nutritional status of a child- was only 10cm, weight was 7.07kg, and length was 78cm, far below the normal weight of a child his age.  

TFU technical staff started treatment and feeding procedures in an effort to save his life and stabilize him, administering rehydration solution (ReSoMal), and emergency supplementary medication including F75 therapeutic milk donated by UNICEF and antibiotics (Ceftriaxone, Gentamicin).

To the relief of all, after two days in the stabilization phase, Gulbudin showed signs of improvement. Bibi is happy, and has a smile on her face, as Gulbudin is then transferred to the transitional phase and started with F100 therapeutic milk to accelerate weight gain.

18 months Gulbudin receives Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) at the UNICEF-supported Regional Hospital in Nangarhar

“My son was treated for six (6) days in here, I was so scared I would lose him. He would breathe so lightly that it sometimes appeared he wasn’t breathing at all.”

Bibi mother of Gulbudin

“I am so happy to see he is improving.  He has gained weight and now they have given him 21 sachets of ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) for a week - three sachets per day. ’He is so much better”, says a now smiling Bibi. Gulbudin’s weight has increased to 7.6kg and his MUAC has become 10.7cm making him lively and healthier.  With thanks to the generous support of our donors, Gulbudin is one of the over 270,000 children UNICEF has been able to reach and treat for severe acute malnutrition over the last twelve months.

Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest rates of stunting in children under the age of five: 37per cent. Stunting is a sign of chronic undernutrition during the most critical periods of growth. It prevents children from reaching their potential. Stunted children are more likely to contract diseases, less likely to get basic health care, and do not perform well in school. The rate of wasting in Afghanistan is also extremely high. Wasting, as its name suggests, is literally wasting away to skin and bones. The crushing result of acute malnutrition, and this poses an immediate threat to a child’s survival.

Despite impressive improvements in the past decade, Afghanistan’s health system still faces a number of challenges. Nutrition services remain limited and healthcare providers lack training to assess and offer counselling and treatment. When nutritional issues go undetected, rates of stunting, wasting, severe acute malnutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies appear lower in statistics and receive much less focus than they should.