Saving young lives with Nutrition services in flood affected Balochistan
With funding from UK Government's FCDO, UNICEF provides treatment for malnourished children
Nasirabad, Balochistan province: Muhammed Usman (9 months), is a playful infant curiously jumping in his mother’s lap, trying to grab whatever his hands can reach.
Brought to a UNICEF-supported Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP) centre, by his mother Khanzadi, for a routine examination, Usman is all excited as Naheed Israr, a Nutrition Assistant tries to determine his nutrition status by measuring his Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC).
The OTP centre is established by UNICEF as part of the flood response programme in one of the Basic Health Units (BHU) on the outskirts of Dera Murad Jamali, the capital of Nasirabad, one of the districts worst hit by the 2022 monsoon floods in Balochistan.
“I am grateful that my boy is healthy and active now, but he was not like this a few months back,” says Khanzadi.
“He was frail and underweight at birth and had to be kept under observation in the hospital for a few days. He was so weak and unwell that he had to be fed through a tube”.
“He had digestion problems and would vomit even breast milk. I was worried for his life”.
Later, during one of the visits to the doctor, Usman was referred to the OTP Centre for nutrition screening and necessary treatment.
Naheed conducted a MUAC test on Usman and diagnosed him as a case of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), a life-threatening condition unless treated. She registered him for treatment.
“I provided Usman’s mother, Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a life-saving essential supply item that treats severe wasting in children under 5 years of age,” explains Naheed.
“I also counselled Khanzadi to regularly breastfeed him and take good care of her own food and personal hygiene.”
“Khanzadi is a caring mother who followed my advice to breastfeed him besides giving RUTF regularly. She also followed the schedule of the follow up visits.”
“Thankfully, Usman recovered within three months and is now healthy, happy and active,” says Naheed with a sense of accomplishment.
Khanzadi and her husband Hasil Khan, live on a farmland with their eleven children, Usman being the youngest.
Khanzadi, in her fifties, already had ten children when she got pregnant with Usman. During this time, she had to manage the domestic chores, take care of family and work on the farm.
In the massive floods of August 2022, Usman’s family was displaced, and they had to live in makeshift shelter for weeks on an elevated part of a roadside surrounded by flood water.
The floods affected 33 million people including 16 million children, in Pakistan. Sindh and Balochistan provinces were affected the most with widespread displacement and destruction of infrastructure.
“When the floods water came to our area, I was pregnant with Usman,” Khanzadi recalls.
“It was a very difficult time. We had to leave our house and move to a safer place. There was not enough for us to eat. And I felt feeble and sick most of the times.”
By and large, the communities in Balochistan are poor, living on the margin in rural dwellings with limited access to basic services such as health, education, clean drinking water and other amenities. The devastating floods compounded their problems.
Usman was born on September 6, 2022, in DHQ Dera Murad Jamali about a week after the floods. Khanzadi was shifted to the makeshift shelter on the roadside after the delivery.
“I had never imagined such hard times, staying in the open with water all around. We had sleepless nights in the hot and humid weather with limited food and drinking water. The newborn and other children cramped together crying and screaming,” Khanzadi recalls the ordeal with a heavy voice and tears in her eyes.
“If Usman’s treatment was not free, we may not have been able to afford it as we did not have the resources.”
“Now, he is healthy, crawls and plays around with his siblings. It is a blessing to see him grow. I plan to send him to school and wish he becomes a doctor,” says Khanzadi with a smile.
A generous grant from UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, helped UNICEF launch nutrition services in Balochistan for screening and treatment of malnourished children, adolescent girls, and women in the flood-hit districts. UNICEF in collaboration with the Nutrition Directorate, Department of Health Service, Balochistan and its partner Shifa Foundation, continues to implement the nutrition programme for the affected communities.
Nearly 38,000 children between the age of 6-59 months were screened for malnutrition whereas around 4,000 were enrolled for treatment of SAM between January to June 2023. During this period over 28,000 children were provided multi-nutrient powder and almost 50,000 pregnant and lactating women received iron-folic acid for the prevention of anaemia in the flood-hit districts of Balochistan.