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Mobile clinics protect children from malnutrition in post-flood Pakistan

By David Youngmeyer

SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan, 30 June 2011 – The battle against child malnutrition in Pakistan’s flood-affected Sindh Province is reaching even the smallest, most isolated villages with the help of UNICEF-supported mobile health teams.

VIDEO: 20 April 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on efforts to prevent malnutrition in the aftermath of Pakistan's floods.  Watch in RealPlayer


They make regular community visits to identify malnourished children and pregnant women. They give medicines and vital nutritional support such as take-home supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food, which is essential for malnourished children. They also reinforce healthy behaviour such as breastfeeding, basic nutrition, and good health and hygiene.

Hajani is one of the mothers who attended a clinic operating in the small village of Suleman Kehari, in Thatta District of southern Sindh Province. Wearing a traditional dupata scarf, and cradling her young son in her arms, Hajani looks happy to share her own experience.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011
A mother and her child in Suleman Kehari village in southern Sindh Province, Pakistan. The entire village was displaced but has now returned home. With high malnutrition rates, UNICEF is helping to ensure mothers and children have adequate nutrition.

“Before coming to this centre, my child would not eat anything,” she says. “I got this food for my child from here. I give him one sachet every day. He has now started to take milk too and has started to gain weight.”

The clinic is run by UNICEF implementing partner Merlin. It is one of 226 mobile health teams and 84 static health units which UNICEF is supporting throughout southern Sindh. UNICEF rapidly scaled up its nutrition interventions after a recent survey by the Sindh Department of Health identified critical levels of malnutrition among flood-affected children in Sindh Province.

Emergency malnutrition rates

The survey found that the Global Acute Malnutrition rate – which indicates the number of moderately and severely malnourished children – among children between 6 and 59 months old was  more than 21 per cent in southern Sindh. For children in northern Sindh, the rate was about 23 per cent. These rates are well above the World Health Organisation’s 15 per cent emergency threshold which triggers a humanitarian response.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011
A health worker examines a child in Suleman Kehari village in southern Sindh Province, Pakistan. Malnutrition rates are very high and UNICEF has established a mobile clinic to keep mothers and children healthy.

Child malnutrition is the single biggest contributor to under-five mortality, increasing the risk of infections and slowing recovery from illness. Dr. Ayesha Riaz, UNICEF Nutrition Early Recovery Working Group Coordinator for South Sindh, says that the mobile clinics provide an important way to reach children and mothers, even in remote areas.

“The clinics go to where families are and assess the nutritional status of children and mothers in the community. Once we have identified cases of need, we can provide assistance such as take-home supplies of therapeutic and supplementary food, health and hygiene sessions, and on-going monitoring to ensure progress,” she says.

UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Dan Rohrmann, who visited the health clinic at Suleman Kehari village, was impressed with the work that is being done to improve child malnutrition rates.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011
Amid high malnutrition rates in Suleman Kehari village in southern Sindh Province, Pakistan and UNICEF are working with partners to ensure good nutrition.

Nutrition vital for future

Last year’s monsoon floods had a devastating impact on Sindh Province. Huge numbers of displaced families had little food or food that was of poor nutritional quality. Food security continues to be an issue as the floods wiped out many family’s livestock and crops.

“We know that the effects of malnutrition on children under three years of age can have a big impact on their later life, affecting cognitive development, educational attainment and later economic productivity. It is vital that children have access to high standards of healthcare and that they can grow and develop into healthy adults,” he says.

UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Sindh and other partners to improve the nutritional status of children and women. Nutrition is also a key focus of the UN Delivering as One Programme, where UNICEF pools its resources and expertise with other UN agencies to maximise results for children and families.



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