School feeding programme needs improvement

Investigation is underway to establish what could have led to glossitis outbreak in some Bhutanese schools.

Glossitis is an inflammatory disorder of the tongue that leads to swelling, change in colour, and development of different appearance on the surface. And it is painful.

However, this is not the first time the outbreak has occurred among students in Bhutanese schools. Investigations have been going on for years. Since February 1, this group of tongue diseases has been reported from at least 11 schools. More than 500 students have been affected.

Investigations so far have pointed to nutritional deficiency in students. It began with the peripheral neuropathy (a condition that results from damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord which causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in hands and feet) in Orong High Secondary School in Samdrupjongkhar in 2012, which claimed two lives.

Both the conditions are linked to nutritional deficiency in children in Bhutanese schools. The affected students, in the case of glossitis outbreak, were given B2, one of the components of Vitamin B Complex, which resulted in significant improvement in their health conditions.

There are interventions, yes, but we need to look beyond words such as “enriched” and “fortified” when designing provisions in schools. The fact is that the human body cannot use food enriched with synthetic vitamins or minerals. And, thus, the many health issues.

Reportedly, 10,000 B2 supplements have been procured to be given to students in affected schools. The supplements, though, would be used during the team’s investigation to study the cause.   

The programme of mass distribution of the vitamin is good and must go on. But what we know is that such conditions occur in Bhutanese schools because there is a need to improve the food basket of the school feeding programme. The findings are clear.

The real question is: are we spending enough in the school-feeding programme? When school administrators and teachers proposed stipend rise to Nu 2,040 per child in three-meals schools (based on the calculation of nutrition children require), the government in 2020 approved the rise to only Nu 1,500 per child.

There must be speedy and conclusive investigation. We cannot keep doubting and suspecting.

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