A few weeks ago, a three-year-old child was admitted at the Trashigang hospital after being diagnosed with signs and symptoms of malnutrition.

After the death of the mother, the child’s elder sister, a class X student was looking after the child. The father, a soldier, was at work most of the time. Doctors at the hospital said that the child was malnourished because of lack of proper meals on time.

Another five-year-old was also admitted to the hospital with similar condition a few days later.

Of the 18,443 children (under the age of five) who reported at the 25 health centres in the dzongkhag last year, 412 of them were malnourished.

The number of malnourished cases in children under five years increased from 426 in 2014 to 496 in 2015 where the child attendance was 17,355 and 18,557 respectively.

Health officials said that given the large number of children visiting health centres, the numbers shouldn’t be alarming. The deputy chief health officer was not available for comment.

However, hospital officials said that malnutrition in children are as a result of multiple factors such as lack of concern from parents and availability of nutritional diet, financial status of the parents and hygiene among others.

Nutritionist at Trashigang hospital, Karma Wangchuk, said that a majority of malnutrition cases that are reported to the hospital are a result of lack of parental care.

The conditions are prevalent among children whose parents are farmers living in rural pockets. While parents are out working, most children are left on their own. This results in children missing out on timely diets and required affection.

Karma Wangchuk said that most parents in the villages fail to feed the children with a diet that is rich in protein and essential nutrients. He said that apart from potatoes, which are available in abundance in this part of the country, there are not many varieties in the food given to the child.

Sangay Chozom who had come for a routing check-up of her three-year-old girl said that because there are not many vegetables grown in her village, they feed the child with the same food that parents eat.

“My daughter already has a taste for chillies. She can eat the same curry that we eat,” she said. “It is more convenient for us. She will grow faster this way because my elder daughter also started eating chillies from the age of three.”

Another mother, Wangmo, said that her five-year-old son refuses to eat cheese and eggs. “We tried feeding him milk and eggs as instructed by doctors but he prefers potatoes over eggs.” she said. “My son eats more rice if it’s a potato curry.”

“When parents cannot maintain their own diet, how can they feed their children with food containing essential nutrients,” said Karma Wangchuk. “They should be given a balanced diet so that the child grows healthily.”

While financial stability of parents remain one of the common reasons for poor diet, Karma Wangchuk said that it is not necessary to feed children with only meat to get the required protein. He said that protein rich diet such as milk, eggs, beans and soya chunks would provide the required nutrient to the child.

“These are affordable and easily available,” said Karma Wangchuk.

According to the National Nutrition Survey 2015, the prevalence of stunting among children was recorded at 29.1 percent in the east, almost double of the prevalence reported in western and central regions at 16.2 percent and 18.5 percent.

As per the survey, the prevalence of stunting is more in rural areas (26.1 percent) than in urban centres (16 percent).

Doctors say lack of sanitation and personal hygiene also contribute to malnutrition in children. The survey found that compared to the western and central regions, the eastern region has no proper water sanitation and hygiene.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang