Healthcare

Is cow milk pushing Kashmiri children into severe malnutrition?

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A group of children along with their parents wait at a school bus stop as schools reopen after along time in Kashmir. [FPK Photo/ Amir Bin Rafi]

A nutritionist working at the GB Pant Hospital, Srinagar details the neonatal health condition of children being admitted in the infirmary on a daily basis.

Inside Srinagar’s GB Pant Children Hospital, parents can be seen making frenetic rounds for their young one’s health. Pain reflects from their eyes as they try to console their wailing children suffering from different maladies.

These parents are ready to do anything to see their kids healthy, but they remain helpless in one or other way.

Children with nutrition-related problems are kept in Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) ward where I work as a nutritionist. These admitted children suffer from different nutritional deficiencies.

But the ward remains warm with care and compassion. The parents keep praising doctors for making them feel comfortable and help their children to get healthy again.

As a dietician, I can tell you that Kashmiri children suffer from malnutrition and other nutrition-related problems mostly due to unawareness.

Most of the parents feed their children their choicest food, without following the medical advice. A young couple from Doda whose son Abu Sufiyan was recently admitted in the hospital is the best example of this case.

Stuck in the hospital for 21 days, the poor parents kept waiting for some good news about Abu Sufiyan—whose health deteriorated a few weeks of his birth. He would vomit food and milk, resulting in nutrient deficiency in his body. In Sufiyan’s case, a calcium allergy triggered by cow milk was the reason behind vomiting.

Despite breast-milk important diet for children, parents in Kashmir often feed them cow or goat milk leading to malnutrition. By denying breastfeeding, parents deny complete nutrition to their children.

On the other hand, some parents continue breastfeeding their children even after two years of birth, which is wrong. After the kid turns 6 months old, we’ve to start feeding him/her different food.

But people in Kashmir often skip meals of their kid. They think nun-chai and banana is enough, which is again a wrong notion.

There was this family from Kalaroos Kupwara whose nine-month-old kid Seerat was hospitalised in the NRC ward of the hospital in the recent past. The baby was suffering from serious malnutrition. Her parents were so innocent that they were not able to understand what exactly was happening with their kid.

The medical reports made it certain that after suffering from hepatitis and measles early in her life, Seerat was not able to gain weight, neither her body was getting enough nutrition. Her weight was just 4 kilogram at age of 9 months and albumin was only 3—which is an abnormal level.

With time, her facial condition worsened and she was put on emergency medical treatment and breastfeeding at the hospital. It was yet another case of bad feeding driven by unawareness.

We counsel parents and make them aware of everything that is needed for their children’s healthy well-being. In most cases, we give a diet chart and call for follow-ups. We put serious cases on medication and keep them under observation at the hospital. We check the height for age, weight for age and weight for height. By looking at these criteria, we start treatment.

Sometimes back, 2-year-old Huzaif was also admitted in the hospital. The condition of this kid was much better than other kids normally being admitted there. He had iron deficiency and would faint because of it. He suffered from diarrhoea, high fever and weakness.

His ailing condition was linked with his mother’s poor health. She was suffering from anaemia and her pale condition was impacting her son’s health.

Anaemia is a very common deficiency in pregnant mothers in Kashmir. If the mother is not fit, how can we expect a healthy child? Also, females face deficiency when they go through their monthly periods. The loss of blood makes them weak. So it becomes very important to take extra care during those days.

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