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Combating acute malnutrition in flood survivors

© UNICEF India/2007/ Rahi
Flood-affected children in Bihar receiving UNICEF-provided meal.

By Robin Giri

BIHAR, India, 17 September 2007 – It is more than a month after the severe flooding in Bihar, but millions of people continue to be affected. Food distribution to those displaced by the flood was often delayed because roads were washed away.

“In the beginning it was important that these children and mothers be provided with an additional supplementary diet,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Bihar, Bijaya Rajbhandari. “At the same time, the needs of those children who were suffering from severe acute malnutrition couldn’t be addressed just by food. We had to have something more comprehensive in place.”

To attend to the more urgent needs of severely malnourished children, UNICEF, in partnership with the State Health Society in Bihar, has established two Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres (NRCs). At the NRCs, children are fed a special diet, weighed and monitored daily and are tested for any childhood illnesses.

© UNICEF India/2007/ Rahi
Azad is comforted by his mother at a Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre in East Champaran.

‘I was really scared’

At a Centre in the East Champaran district of Bihar, a malnourished boy named Azad clings to his mother and cries every time she tries to move. Azad is three years old, but you might mistake him for much younger. His body is emaciated and he has brittle, light-coloured hair.

Shweta Gautam is a feeding demonstrator who monitors the dietary needs of every child at Azad's Centre.

“I was really scared when Azad was first brought in but within a week he has gained about 200 grams in body weight and will now begin a normal diet,” Ms. Gautam says.

To date, 29 children are being cared for at the NRCs as part of a two-week residential programme for mothers and their severely malnourished children.

“The idea is that these mothers leave the NRC with enough knowledge to keep themselves and their babies safe and healthy,” says Ms. Gautam.

© UNICEF India/2007/ Rahi
Children at UNICEF-supported Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres are monitored daily.

Comprehensive medical care

One of the major priorities of the NRC is to counsel mothers on how to prepare nutritious food for their children from what is available to them. The other is to dispel the stereotypes and myths about their children’s dietary needs.

“Every child that is admitted here receives comprehensive medical care,” says Nutritional Consultant for UNICEF India, Deepali Hariprasad. “Any child that requires medical care that cannot be administered at the NRC is referred to the district hospital immediately.”

UNICEF has also joined forces with local women’s organizations like Mahila Samakhya to provide meals of ‘khichdi’ (made of rice, lentils, and soy)  to 22,000 children and 5,000 pregnant and lactating mothers in the eight most affected districts.

UNICEF Bihar is hoping that eventually NRCs will be built all over the country, where they can save the lives women and children in need.



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