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Difference between life and death for children in Sindh province, Pakistan

By Zeeshan Suhail

A new report by UNICEF reveals the high prevalence of stunting in children under 5, but also outlines the tremendous opportunities that exist to make it a problem of the past.

An innovative approach to malnutrition in flood-affected Sindh Province, Pakistan, can help ensure a child not only survive, but also thrive.
SANGHAR DISTRICT, Sindh Province, Pakistan, 15 April 2013 – Nightat Bibi is from a remote village in Sanghar district. A mother of five, she knows all too well how vulnerable a malnourished child is to disease and death.

UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a programme that is restoring malnourished children to health in Sindh province, Pakistan.  Watch in RealPlayer


Ms. Bibi is haunted by how quickly her 4-year-old son’s health deteriorated from bouts of diarrhoea. “I would have lost Fazal if his nutritional situation was not managed fast and effectively,” she says. “Now I know it can be done at home, as well.” 

Ms. Bibi is now a self-appointed nutrition promoter in her village. She plays an active role in efforts to promote awareness of healthy nutrition and of how to receive therapeutic care for children who are severely malnourished.

Community mobilization teams

The floods of 2011 brought tremendous loss of food stocks, potable water and basic hygiene services. In such situations, a cycle of malnutrition begins that takes a heavy toll on children of all ages, but on very young children, in particular.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2012/Khurram
A woman holds her malnourished 1-year-old baby at the Sinjoro health centre, Sanghar district, Sindh province. Community health workers referred her to the health centre, which tended to the baby and armed her with simple instructions about diet and household behaviours.

In the aftermath, UNICEF has supported communities across Punjab and Sindh provinces by scaling up health and nutrition services. The intervention was supported by the European Union humanitarian aid department (ECHO).

UNICEF has also supported community mobilization teams to ensure the battle against child malnutrition in Sindh Province reach the smallest, most isolated villages.

These teams visit villagers regularly, stressing the importance of good nutrition and of a balanced diet for women – in particular, women who are pregnant, lactating or of child-bearing age. They identify malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women so that vital nutritional support can be provided, such as take-home supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food, and medicines, when required. They also reinforce such behaviours as breastfeeding, basic nutrition and good hygiene.

Meeting a rising threat

Children face a rising threat of acute malnutrition. Natural disasters, rising food prices and poor environmental conditions aggravate the situation. The magnitude and severity of the problem point to a blend of community- and facility-based solutions so that measures to fight malnutrition can penetrate the remotest areas and reach all children.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2012/Khurram
The infant and young child feeding counsellor at Sinjoro health centre teaches women from the village about nutrition and household behaviours. Sindh province is prone to flooding, which puts children at risk of malnutrition.

Innovative nutrition programmes including a community component, such as the ECHO project, can help meet the challenge. Beyond identifying malnourished children who urgently need treatment, these programmes teach simple, effective household behaviours that can help prevent the recurrence of malnutrition and disease.

This approach is appreciated by mothers like Ms. Bibi who have other young children to take care of, and little money to spare for visits to doctors and hospitals. Beyond the obvious benefit of good health for the children, resources saved can afford families the important chance to invest their resources in rebuilding livelihoods and homes.

Creating awareness about the importance of healthy nutrition for mothers and children, including proper infant and young child feeding practices – and food supplements, when indicated by health practitioners – can ensure a child not only survive, but also thrive. A family’s knowledge about nutrition and good health and hygiene practices can make the difference between life and death for malnourished children – especially in areas in which even the most rudimentary health facilities are few and far between.



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