Pakistan: “It’s hard to see your child wasting away”

3 July, 2014
June 2014, Tharparkar, Pakistan: Nirmala and her 13 month old son Popat at a UN clinic in Tharparkar in Pakistan's Sindh Province. Popat was severely malnourished when he arrived at the clinic, but UN staff were able to stablize him and he is now gaining weight. Credit: OCHA
June 2014, Tharparkar, Pakistan: Nirmala and her 13 month old son Popat at a UN clinic in Tharparkar in Pakistan's Sindh Province. Popat was severely malnourished when he arrived at the clinic, but UN staff were able to stablize him and he is now gaining weight. Credit: OCHA

Nirmala had lost all hope for her 13 month old son Popat. He was dying. “It’s hard to see your child wasting away in front of your eyes,” the mother of five said.

Popat was suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Tharparkar, a rural district of Sindh province in south-east Pakistan, is no stranger to hunger. Earlier this year, the combination of drought and the death of thousands of livestock saw malnutrition rates spike alarmingly. An estimated 300,000 across Sindh have been affected and over 240 people – more than half of them children – have died since the beginning of the year.

The National Nutrition Survey revealed that a staggering 58 percent of all Pakistanis suffer from food insecurity, with malnutrition rates as high as 20 per cent in areas like Tharparkar.

Struggling to make ends meet

Nirmala and her husband work hard to make ends meet. With their limited resources they were only able to provide Popat with the most basic of health care. His condition deteriorated quickly and his parents felt hopeless and desperate.

In April, aid workers arrived in Nirmala and Popat’s village. They set about screening children for malnutrition, and started referring sick kids to a UN clinic that had been set up in Tharparkar district. Because of the severity of Popat’s case, his family was given a cash grant so that they could take him to the Nutrition Stabilization Centre, a place where very ill children can receive the specialized support they need.

Popat was immediately admitted to the centre and began to receive treatment for severe acute malnutrition as well as for pneumonia.

Over 32,000 children treated

Since April, more than 32,000 children have been identified and treated through the UN Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition programme in Tharparkar. The Nutrition Stabilization Centre, operated jointly by the UN Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme, has treated more than 2,000 children with severe acute malnutrition, more than 4,000 children with moderate malnutrition and more than 3,000 pregnant and lactating women with moderate malnutrition.

Popat has recently been discharged from the Nutrition Stabilization Centre and is gaining weight after his treatment. There is joy and satisfaction in Nirmala’s eyes.

“I had lost all hope,” she says. “To see him alive and getting healthier has brought great joy to our family.”

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