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Help for displaced and malnourished children in Pakistan

© UNICEF/Pakistan/Ramoneda 2008
Ataullah, 2, receives therapeutic feeding in a camp for displaced families in north-west Pakistan.

By Antonia Paradela

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, 10 March 2009 – Ataullah cries as the nutritionist measures his upper arm. He weighs only 7.7 kilos, well under the recommended weight for a two-year-old boy. The nutritionist concludes that he is severely malnourished. His brother Matiullah, less than a year older, is moderately malnourished.

Mina Gul, the mother of the two boys, lifts her burqa to follow the nutritionist's instructions on how to complement their meals with Plumpy'nut (a nutritious nut-based food supplement that helps severely malnourished children gain weight) and Unimix (a flour-based food supplement rich in vitamins and minerals intended for moderately malnourished children).

Displaced by conflict

It has been a very difficult year for Ms. Gul. Earlier this year, she was powerless to stop the marriage of her 12-year-old daughter to a 40-year-old man – his second marriage. 

“My in-laws insisted. I did not want her to get married so soon. I also got married when I was her age and know how difficult it is,” says Ms. Gul.

Not long after, Mina’s family was displaced by conflict and brought to a camp in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

© UNICEF/Pakistan/Ramoneda 2008
Eight-month-old Alamzeb is identified as needing urgent nutrition support during a tent-to-tent visit by the nutrition team in Katcha Garhi displacement camp.

NWFP is one of the least developed regions of Pakistan. According to recent national data, 1 in 10 children here dies before reaching age five, 33 per cent of children in the tribal areas are underweight and 16 per cent are severely malnourished.

Culturally appropriate support

Nutrition interventions, like the one supported by UNICEF in Katcha Garhi displacement camp, have screened more than 12,000 children and provided them with Unimix, micronutrient supplements and de-worming tablets.  For cases requiring urgent medical attention, UNICEF has established stabilisation centres for IDPs in three major hospitals in or near Peshawar.

Women working for UNICEF’s implementing partner, the Centre for Excellence in Rural Development, go from tent to tent in Katcha Garhi camp to identify women and children in need of a nutrition clinic referral. They are among more than 200 government and NGO staff trained by UNICEF in community management of acute malnutrition.

The women recently found an eight-month-old baby in a tent. He was severely malnourished. His family had just moved into the camp, and his grandmother was only able to feed him tea with milk and sugar. The baby’s mother was killed in the bombing of her village during fighting between government forces and militants. Now the surviving family members will receive information about complementary feeding and food supplements to save the child.

© UNICEF/Pakistan/Ramoneda 2008
Mothers receive information about breastfeeding and complementary feeding at a nutrition clinic in Katcha Garhi camp.

At Katcha Garhi camp, many women and children from conservative tribal societies are learning to access information and services for the first time, and thus need culturally appropriate support. But progress is being made. As of February 2009, over 5,000 mothers had already been reached with potentially life-saving information on infant feeding practices.

“UNICEF and its partners in the nutrition cluster are providing information about young child feeding and breastfeeding to women who were once unreachable,” says a nutrition specialist working for UNICEF in NWFP, Dr. Aien Khan Afridi.



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