Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rampant Malnutrition in children

Young Baraka Kitsao struggles to make a meal from the trifling remains in a small purple dish whose contents have been eaten up hastily by those who came before him.
His fingers try to scoop the little of what is left of the ugali and boiled greens that are in the bowls.
It is evident that the food will not appease his hunger  but it will have to do particularly if this will be the only meal served today.
By looking at his frail body it is hard to imagine that he is four years old or that he is older than some of his siblings.
He is malnourished and underfed with no comparison to other boys of his age.
The Standard made its way to the tiny village of Mizingo in Bamba, Kilifi County just as the children in the Kitsao homestead were having late lunch and witnessed firsthand their daily struggle.
And right in time to find a hungry eight month old Salama crying and yelling to get the attention of her older sister at least to have a handful of food diverted to her yearning mouth.
Noticing that her pleas are falling on deaf ears, Salama stretches her arm trying to reach into the bowl of ugali.

Salama’s older sibling is prompted by her attempts to reach for the bowl and feeds her.

She stops crying only after she is given a piece of ugali but resumes moments later when she realizes that another serving is not forthcoming.
It is no wonder that Salama like her half brother Baraka is underweight.
The Kitsao homestead portrays the reality in many homesteads in Kilifi county where food is hard to come by and one has to be content with the little they have.

 According to  Kilifi district nutritionist Ronald Mbunye  malnutrition is common particularly where poverty reigns.

“Many of the children in poor households have to survive on the reality of sharing food because it is a scarce commodity,” he said.

He decried that many of the younger children had to do with the care of their older siblings as the women had to tend to the farms.

“Women here go to the farms to dig after the rains but they hardly benefit because of the inconsistent rains.” he noted
Many of the children have to scramble for their daily rations that hardly meet the nutritional requirements for healthy growth with their siblings.
Younger children are fed at the mercy of older siblings and wait until they have had their fill or like Salama protest to have their way.
Many of the women have left their homes to dig in their farms with the hope that they will benefit from the inconsistent rains of the recent past.
The government supplementary feeding program offers a little help to children like Baraka and Salama by providing them with food rations that meet their nutritional needs twice a month.
The prolonged drought has however made it difficult for those on the feeding program as they have had to share their rations with their siblings.
And if like Baraka they miss out while the restof the children are feeding they have to do with what is left.
The future is bleak for those whose weight has not picked as the feeding program supports malnutrition children for 59 months.

“The supplementary feeding program supports children until they are four years of age,” says Mbunye
Baraka was diagnosed with acute malnutrition when he was six months old and has been on the feeding program ever since.
He had deviated from the norm in both height and weight by a negative four in the linear scale and put on the high impact nutrition feeding program, first as an inpatient then afterwards during regular visits to the clinic.
Children on the feeding program are expected to graduate after four feeding cycles when they have regained their body weight and normal health.

At 51 months he is about to finish his cycle but with little improvement in his health he is faced with the challenge of stunted development throughout his entire life.
Malnutrition is a common phenomenon in Mizingo like in many rural areas where poverty reigns and where having unbalanced diet is better than having no food at all.
Many families depend on relief foods from the government and donor agency for their daily provisions but poor infrastructure and corrupt individuals have also made the rations minimal.
For now Baraka and Salama are counting their luck for being in the system that has provided the food that benefits the hungry mouths around them.

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