Admitted to the state-run JJ Hospital’s pediatric ward, Chinmay, 2, and Janhvi Lokhande, 6, siblings from Malad, are battling severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Doctors at the hospital said that the two are about 7kg underweight.
Experts working in the field of malnutrition believe that these cases are only the tip of the iceberg: most cases never reach hospitals. “These children were brought to the hospital for fever and loose motions, not because they were underweight. Parents don’t feel that malnutrition is a problem,” said Dr Sushant Mane, assistant professor at the pediatric medicine department.
World Health Organisation broadly classifies malnutrition as Severe Acute Malnutrition and Moderate Acute Malnutrition. In Mumbai, cases of malnutrition are not restricted to any specific area. Last month, 88 cases of malnourishment were reported from eight communities in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, covering a population of about 35,000. Five deaths of malnourished children below six years of age were reported in September from this area.
“The situation will not change for the next few years in this area specifically. Unavailability of basic amenities increases the risk. Malnourished children’s immunity is already compromised, putting them at the higher risk of contracting diseases,” said Dnyaneshwar Tarwade, assistant director at Apnalaya, a non-profit that works in Shivaji Nagar.
“Poverty is not always the main cause of malnutrition. Children who are born underweight tend to remain malnourished if not fed well. In urban slums, a child is exposed to various infections. Also, mothers here leave children at home and go to work,” said Dr Vasundhara Joshi, executive director, SNEHA is a non-profit working for women and child health in urban areas.