Learning lessons the hard way

People learned a lesson about proper eating habits the hard way

Manish Gautam
Kamala Nepali holds her son Sumit who was diagnosed as being severely malnourished.
UNICEF Nepal/2017/ADhakal
16 July 2018

Bajura, Nepal: When her one-and-half-year-old boy, Sumit, wouldn’t stop vomiting, Kamala Nepali decided it was time to get him checked at the District Hospital in Bajura, a short 10-minute walk from her house in Martadi, district headquarters. Once they’d seen the doctor, however, Kamala’s concern for her son turned into sheer terror—the child was diagnosed as being severely malnourished, or what she articulated as “raato dekhayo”, a local term referring to the red area of the circumference tape used to measure the mid-upper arm, a common test for malnourishment.

“I thought he was a healthy child, you know? He weighed three kilograms, I thought that was normal,” she says. 

The family was naturally distraught upon receiving news of the child’s illness. Until now, Kamal had only heard of a few children in the neighbourhood who had been born thin and underweight and were being treated.

Soon after, Sumit was taken to the Bayalpata Hospital, a referral centre for malnourished children in the region. There, he was kept under the watchful eyes of health professionals and female community health volunteers. A team deployed to support the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP) was also on hand to assist and support the family. UNICEF has been providing technical support along with funding from the European Union to the teams deployed in many parts of the country.

Buddhi Devi Nath feeds her daughter as her husband holds their daughter from back.
UNICEF Nepal/2017/ADhakal
Buddhi Devi Nath feeds her daughter as her husband holds their daughter from back.

For over a week or so, Sumit was fed nutritious flour blends and a variety of locally-available food items, particularly eggs and meat. With that diet, the boy gradually grew in strength, until he was finally able to leave the facility and go home.

Today, Sumit is a healthy child, marked “green”, an indication that he is no longer suffering from poor nutrition. And the whole incident has also put Kamal and her family on high alert regarding the importance of a good diet; she now attends the local mothers’ group meetings where such issues are discussed.

“I make sure to remind the others to watch what their children are eating,” she says. 

Much like Kamala, Buddhi Devi Nath, another mother from Martadi, learned a lesson about proper eating habits the hard way. Her young daughter had weighed four kilograms at birth, but the mother was not lactating for reasons she couldn’t understand. To top it off, she was also feeding the child all kinds of junk food from the local shop just to keep her busy. So, when she finally made up her mind to take the girl to the doctor’s, the tape showed dangerous levels of malnourishment.

This shook Buddhi Devi to her core. Her daughter was admitted to the district hospital with a case of Severely Acute Malnutrition (SAM). Treatment comprised regular doses of highly-nutritious food for an extended period of time. It didn’t take long for the child to gain a healthy weight, and Buddhi Devi is determined to keep it that way.