Unlike other children her age, two-and-a-half-year-old Sabeena Khan can’t stand, walk or hold a glass of water. The child struggles even to change sides while lying in the hospital bed where she is being treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
At six kilos, Sabeena weighs just half of what she should weigh. Her muscles are wasting away, her eyes have sunk deep into the sockets and she has lost sight in her right eye because of food deprivation. Dr Alka Jadhav, professor of paediatric medicine at Sion hospital, said the child was dying when she was brought to the hospital two weeks ago. “Her parents did not suspect she was malnourished; they brought her to us as she had loose motions.”
Doctors enrolled her in the hospital’s malnutrition interventional programme, the Nutrition Rehabilitation and Research Centre, which was initiated to tackle urban malnutrition.
Khan is the third child in six months to have lost vision because of vitamin A deficiency caused by malnutrition (see box), as reported in HT. Doctors said prolonged vitamin A deficiency damages the cornea. “Her left eye is unaffected. She will need corneal transplant to regain vision in her right eye,” said Dr Jadhav.
Sabeena’s father Noor-ul-Haq, a scrap dealer who earns Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 a month, said his daughter, who is one among five children, suddenly stopped eating one day. The parents consulted local doctors whose medicines did not help.
Mankhurd, where the family lives, has 160 aanganwadis running under the Centre’s Integrated Child Development scheme (ICDS), established to provide nutritional supplements to malnourished children. “As vitamin A doses are available at the BMC hospital, we take the children registered with us there for doses,” said Nitin Mhaske, child development project officer for Mankhurd ICDS.
Children below five years get vitamin A doses once every six months, but Sabeena has never received any. Her aunt Sabrunisa said: “She had beautiful eyes and was the most active of the five. We don’t know what happened.”
Doctors said multiple pregnancies can lead to children with low birth weight, which makes them susceptible to malnutrition.