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In India, Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres provide essential services in the fight against malnutrition

© UNICEF India/2011/Hannon
Rasumani Mahato - holding her one-year-old daughter Bhanumati - speaks to a clinic worker at a Nutrition Rehabilitaion Centre in the Purulia district of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

By Elliot Hannon

PURULIA, India, 18 October 2011 - Rasumani Mahato knew something was wrong when her one-year-old daughter, Bhanumati, was too frail to sit up by herself. Listless and uninterested in eating, Bhanumati was referred to the nearby Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), where she was diagnosed with severe malnutrition.

“I thought she had some disease,” Ms. Mahato said. “When I came here, I realised it was food that was the treatment.”

‘Only skin and bones’

Widespread in West Bengal, childhood malnutrition is a condition that increases children’s vulnerability to deadly diseases, such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, and stunts their physical and cognitive development.

The NRC in Purulia was established 10 months ago, through a collaboration of local officials, the Department of Health and Family Welfare and UNICEF, to attack the scourge of malnutrition head-on.

“All the children that come here are very thin,” said Dr. Bilweswar Chattaraj, the centre’s overseeing physician. “Some can’t sit. Some can’t play. Some can’t walk, and some are only skin and bones.”

A role model

Although most of the children and women at the centre are impoverished, the problem is not simply insufficient food. Too often, families don’t know how to feed children well or protect them from preventable diseases.

© UNICEF India/2011/Hannon
Bipula Kalindi feeds her two-year-old malnourished son Bijoy at an Anganwadi centre near their home in the Purulia district of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

In response, the centre not only treats malnutrition, but also equips mothers with the skills and knowledge to ensure that their children, once recovered, remain healthy.

“We hope the Purulia model will be a role model for other districts,” said District Magistrate Avanindra Singh. “The target is to have 21 NRCs in the district.”

Sustaining healthy families

While the children are treated for malnutrition, their mothers learn basic nutrition, food safety and other essential skills, and to compensate for lost wages, the centre pays mothers up to 100 rupees – a little over US$2 – a day.

“Before, they didn’t know about the food that is healthy for children and is cheap and locally available,” said Dr Chattaraj.

Every lesson helped Bipula Kalindi, 20, who spent three weeks at the NRC with her two-year-old son, Bijoy. Before arriving at the centre, Bijoy primarily ate powdered milk.

Now Ms. Kalindi knows to feed him a varied diet. She has learned to wash vegetables, to wash her hands with soap, and to properly bathe Bijoy to keep him from getting sick.

“I now realise that I could have done the things I learned at the NRC at home,” she said.

Newfound health

Having checked out of the centre with her daughter, Ms. Mahato now wants to ensure Bhanumati makes the most of her newfound health.

“I have to make sure she gets a good education,” she said. “I will do whatever is required.”

The centre’s workers see the similar improvement in even the sickest children.

“When they go home we see playful children,” said Dr. Chattaraj. “Some children who were about to die are now getting a better life because of this centre.”



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