A young girl’s story of a new life from a near-death malnourishment
By Naresh Newar
Lalitpur, Nepal – It has been nine months since UNICEF came into four-year-old Akriti Banskota’s life. Her story is an example of how community nutrition can make a huge difference to reduce severe malnutrition in the country.
Akriti was identified as suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) as part of UNICEF-supported emergency nutrition program that was started in her community two months after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015.
“It feels great to hear her laughing and talking and running around,” said Kriti KC, a young health professional working with UNICEF partner Social Development Promotion Centre (SDPC). She recalls how quiet Akriti had been when she first met her.
“She was too weak to say anything or move around,” she said.
Akriti barely ate anything until she was provided with Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a peanut-based paste mixed with dried skimmed milk, vitamins and minerals, which can be consumed directly by the child and which provides sufficient intake of nutrients for complete recovery. She recovered 10 per cent of her body weight in a few weeks, and today she is even going to school.
“My school has a lot of games and I like going there,” said a jolly Akriti, as she got ready to carry her school bag to head down the road to reach her school.
“This is my sister,” said Akriti, introducing her twin sister Sukriti, who was born healthy and is not malnourished. Akriti had a lot of health complications since her birth. By the time she was one year old, her situation worsened, compounded by her worsening malnutrition. Her SAM condition was never diagnosed in the private clinics and hospitals that she was taken.
“If she hadn’t received help, I think she would have had very little chance of survival,” said Krishna Prasad Bajgain, a government health worker at Debichaur Health Post. “UNICEF’s emergency nutrition service has saved her and many other children living with SAM conditions.”
Though she is doing very well, Akriti is still at a risk of relapsing to severe malnutrition and so needs constant nutritional care. She had relapsed a few months ago but was quickly recovered, thanks to regular monitoring by SDPC.
“We have been expanding our services in regular monitoring and counseling the guardians so that children like Akriti will not go back to being severely malnourished,” said Smita Ghimire, nutrition officer at SPDC.
With the introduction of Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) services by the government with support from UNICEF, there is now more expansion of nutrition services underway. Also, for the first time, Nepal has started MAM services in districts outside the earthquake-affected areas to prevent children advancing to SAM cases.
At the Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre that Akriti now attends, Samjhana Lamichhane, her aunt, watches her play with other children.
Samjhana has been taking care of Akriti since she was one year old, as her parents are away overseas working.
Because of the experience, she has been able to get hands-on knowledge about nutritional care for children and she is sharing that with other parents.
“It really feels good when parents come to me for advice because now I do know a lot about nutrition and I have to thank UNICEF for providing the knowledge and supporting us,” she said.