Budgam/Srinagar: Improper feeding of infants is increasing their vulnerability to diseases, of which a case in point is the incidence of such diseases in Budgam district. In several cases, malnutrition brought about by inappropriate breastfeeding and lack of access to infant milk substitutes has caused this growing vulnerability to diseases, doctors as well as the government’s medical records say.
A one-year-old child from Beerwah area was admitted to District Hospital Budgam last month for acute anaemia, chest infection, dehydration and swelling in the stomach, which had caused alarming weight loss in him. Doctors had to shift him to GB Pant Hospital in Srinagar for better treatment.
“At this age, he should weigh at least 10 kg. However, when he came in, he weighed only 3 kg,” said a doctor treating him at the Nutritional Rehabilitation Center (NRC), GB Pant Hospital.
“When he was just a month old, his mother stopped breastfeeding him, following which he developed many health problems,” said the doctor.
“It took him six months to recover and gain 5 kg,” said Dr Raihana Mahjabeen, the NRC in-charge.
As per official data, more than 100 under-nourished children of Budgam district have been treated over the last two years at Kashmir’s lone children’s specialty hospital, the GB Pant Hospital. Eighty of them were put on long-term nutritional therapy at the NRC as malnutrition had caused infections and underlying ailments in them.
“Almost 30 percent of the undernourished children belong to Beerwah tehsil,” the data says. Similarly, cases of malnourished infants were reported from Watrihal, Kachwari, Mujhpatri, Reyar, Arizal, Pakharpora, Khag, and some areas of Chadoora tehsil.
“In most of the children, the malnutrition was due to a deficiency of proteins, vitamins and energy, and bottle-feeding instead of breastfeeding by mothers,” Dr Raihana said.
“It is the vicious cycle of malnutrition: reduced immune response, weight loss, a decrease in food intake and an increase in infection accompanied by paleness and extreme weakness. These are well-recognised symptoms of malnutrition in a child. Malnutrition stops the growth of a child and leads to the risk of death,” she explained.
Dr Raihana, however, expressed satisfaction over the working of the NRC in providing a protected environment for malnourished children to get better.
“We treat malnourished children with care and proper maintenance. We also provide adequate knowledge to parents and counsel them about feeding habits to prevent diseases,” she said.
The NRC staff includes a nutrition counsellor who attends to women wishing to be counselled about the feeding of infants. Most mothers whose babies are admitted here are unaware about the nature and benefits of breastfeeding. They stop nursing too early, thus pushing their infants towards malnutrition.
Senior paediatrician Dr Kaiser Ahmad said most diseases among infants occur due to bad or unhygienic nutritional practices.
“The solution to all such problems among children is that emphasis should be given on exclusive breastfeeding for six months,” he said, adding that children should be introduced to other foods like fresh cow’s milk and a combination of nutritious items after six months.
“The introduction of such supplements and a judicious combination of food should be given along with breastfeeding for as long as possible,” Dr Ahmad said.
According to him, malnutrition and infections are the most common causes of morbidity in infants.
“Malnourishment leads to a poor immune system, which causes infections. While one leads to the other, both are intimately associated with poverty and poor education,” he said.
“It is possible to improve infant nutrition by two simple, affordable strategies: one, promotion of exclusive breastfeeding till the child completes six months of age, and two, after that age, introduction of proper complementary feeds in addition to, and not as a replacement of, breastfeeding,” Dr Kaiser said.
The doctor said that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is the singlemost effective child survival intervention as it reduces under-five mortality by 13 percent.
He also emphasised the need to regulate the use of commercial infant food and the promotion of better hygiene and cleanliness in the handling and feeding of infant foods.
Chief Medical Officer, Budgam, Dr GM Dar admitted that the problem of malnourishment exists among children in the district’s remote areas.