Surya Mariappa, a four-year-old who weighs 6kg, is not the only starving child in his family, that lives in a Santacruz slum. Around three months ago, his two cousin sisters, five-year-old Bhawani and two-year-old Kutima were admitted to the same paediatric ward in Sion hospital where Surya is now, and diagnosed with malnutrition too.
Doctors have classified their condition as Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), a World Health Organisation classification which India uses. Veni, who looks after the three children along with Surya’s brother, depends on odd jobs such as rag-picking to feed her four children. Bhawani and Kutima are her daughters and Surya and his brother are her sister’s children.
Veni said she took in nephews when their parents died. “I have to take care of my daughters and my sister’s sons alone,” said Veni, whose husband abandoned her almost a year ago. On the days Veni manages to find work, she earns about Rs100. The days she doesn’t, the family goes hungry.
Bhawani was 8.9kg when she was admitted to the hospital on June 30 — 3kg less than normal. Her sister Kutima, weighed only 5.6kg — 2kg below average, when she was admitted on July 13.
Veni’s family is not alone in their struggle against acute malnutrition. City doctors say that an estimated 44% children below the age of five suffer from malnutrition in India. More importantly, the prevalence of malnutrition is more in urban slums than in rural areas.
Dr Alka Jadhav, a professor of paediatric medicine, Sion hospital said the three siblings are enrolled in the hospital’s interventional programme for malnutrition, Nutrition Rehabilitation and Research Center. “Bhawani and Kutima got better after hospitalisation. They dropped out of the programme later,” she said.