Malnutrition stunts growth of Sunamganj children

Poverty and lack of awareness are among main problems causing stunted growth in children

Highlights:

* 52% of children suffer from stunted growth
* 15% of children are emaciated
* 26% of children are born with low birth weight
* 55% of infants suffer due to lack of breast milk.
* 62.4% of households buy only staple food like rice, pulses for daily consumption.
* Cause of malnutrition:
* Poverty
* Lack of awareness
* Inadequate healthcare facilities
* Poor sanitation system

Shakil, 8, and Shabab, 6, two siblings in Sreepur village in Tahirpur upazila of Sunamganj, have been suffering from malnutrition which has stunted their growth.

Sabuj Mia, father of the two children, said, “I am very worried about the two boys. They are getting older, but not growing. We are poor people and can’t eat well. I don’t even have money to consult a doctor.”

Many children suffer from similar problems in Sunamganj, where Tanguar haor is located.

A survey by the Sunamganj District Civil Surgeon Office in 2019 revealed that 52% of children in the district were suffering from stunted growth, while 15% were emaciated due to malnutrition. In addition, 26% of children were born with low birth weight, while 55% of infants suffered due to a lack of breast milk.

Since 2019, no such survey has been conducted due to Covid-19, but officials of the Health Services Division think that the situation has not improved yet. Rather, they fear that the children may suffer from more severe malnutrition due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Health Services Division officials in Sunamganj said the rate of children suffering from malnutrition in the haor area is high due to poverty, lack of awareness, inadequate healthcare facilities and poor communication systems.

Boro paddy is the only crop in the Tanguar haor area, but floods often wash away the crop. Poverty haunts the inhabitants of the district as they have very little alternative employment opportunities.

Besides, a shortage of hospitals and health workers in the haor area is also having a negative impact on the children there.

People in the district have complained that there is no government programme, except one, to provide vaccines and vitamin capsules for children.

Asia Begum, a resident of Sultanpur village in Shalla upazila of the district, said, “All of my four children frequently suffer from sickness. I can’t afford nutritious food for them. Rising prices have made it difficult for us to manage meals three times a day. It is not possible for us to arrange anything different for the children.”

Saiful, 9, son of Khaleq Miah in Sreepur village, is also suffering from malnutrition. The boy is growing, but he is severely emaciated.

Khaleq Mia said, “The boy has been like that since birth. I have taken him to many doctors and kabirajes (practitioners of traditional medicines), but his health is not improving.”

Nazmul Haque, executive director of the non-government organisation IDEA in Sylhet, said, “The sanitation system in the haor area is very poor and there is a shortage of clean water.”

“Besides, people there have no idea about nutrition. That is why most of the children here are suffering from malnutrition,” he said. IDEA has been working to improve people’s health and education in the area.

Saddam Hussein, assistant scientific officer at the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Training on Applied Nutrition in Sunamganj, said, “Children need to eat plenty of vegetables to avoid malnutrition.

“We are training people from all walks of life to produce food, including fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins. If they live according to the training, they will be able to meet the nutritional needs of their families and earn profits by selling the remaining crops,” he added.

Mohammad Omar Faruk, a senior health education officer at Sunamganj Civil Surgeon’s Office, said, “Children are more likely to be malnourished at the marginal level than in the city. Besides, mothers in the area are completely indifferent to children’s nutrition.”

Referring to a survey, he said 62.4% of households in Sunamganj buy only staple food like rice and pulses for daily consumption.

Sunamganj Civil Surgeon Dr Shamsuddin said, “An endeavour is underway to overcome this situation. A programme regarding nutrition is being conducted in every ward in the district.”

“We run campaigns, including an assembly of mothers, to raise awareness among parents. However, more needs to be done to remove malnutrition in this area,” he continued.

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