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Nourishing children affected by quake in Pakistan’s northern mountains

© UNICEF/HQ05-1469/Pirozzi
A couple sits with their children outside a makeshift tent in a camp for earthquake survivors set up next to Mansehra District Hospital in the town of Mansehra, North West Frontier Province.

By Bronwyn Curran

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 24 July 2006 – Young Raabya weighed eight kilograms when she was brought into a tent clinic for malnourished children. Her weight was that of a 10-month-old baby, but her actual age is 10 years old.

Raabya’s case shocked everyone at the UNICEF-supported clinic in Muzaffarabad, which was set up in February four months after the South Asia earthquake.

“She was the worst case we have seen so far,” said  Dr Ijaz Ahmed , the Kashmiri paediatrician in charge of the centre. “She was not only suffering from severe-acute malnutrition, but another illness – pulmonary tuberculosis.”

The clinic is the first of its kind dedicated to malnourished children in the region. UNICEF pays for the staff at the centre and supplies food items such as high-protein biscuits and therapeutic milk.

Under the care of  Dr Ijaz Ahmed and his team, Raabya’s condition started to improve. She was lucky – as five of her siblings had died from the same condition before their 10th birthdays.

Tackling health problems for the first time

© UNICEF/HQ05-1483/Zaidi
A woman holds her twins while seated in a helicopter with other earthquake survivors in North West Frontier Province, one of the areas hardest hit by the disaster.

Before the 7.6-magnitude quake that killed 73,000 people and left three million homeless, the rate of chronic malnutrition in Pakistani-administered Kashmir was 38 per cent. Acute malnutrition was estimated at between five and 10 per cent.

“Repeated infections, lack of awareness, scarcity of food – these are the contributing factors,” said Dr Ijaz Ahmed. “The impact of these factors has been exacerbated by the displacement caused by the earthquake.”

The earthquake has provided a new window into health problems long extant in Pakistan’s remote and mountainous northeast. For agencies like UNICEF, it’s a chance to tackle chronic problems like malnutrition for the first time.

As part of a long-term recovery plan UNICEF and its partners have been training villagers in basic medicine and hygiene so they can monitor families in remote areas and refer serious cases to doctors.

Hundreds of UNICEF-supported community health workers are already in the field, checking up on the health of the families assigned to them, coaching them in good hygiene practices, and referring the ill – and especially the severely malnourished – to seek treatment.
Urgent need to reach more children

To combat malnutrition in children before it reaches acute levels, UNICEF has also launched a vigorous campaign to promote breastfeeding, and plans to set up another 50 supplementary feeding centres in rural areas.

“The whole strategy is designed to enable us to reach the unreached,” said Dr. John Egbuta, UNICEF Project Officer for Nutrition.

“As an organization we want to be able to halt the trend whereby children drift from moderate malnutrition to severe malnutrition.”

Dr Ijaz Ahmed agreed: “The need is still to find those children who need support... otherwise things will deteriorate, no matter what.”



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