At 4, Saquib looks half his age and sickly. The parents are worried about their only child. The boy's physical growth has been slow and his mother blames it on the child's lack of appetite.
The boy's slow physical growth seems to have affected his mental growth too. "I'm really worried about my son. He does not want to eat. But look at Mishu, my neighbour's child, who is only three months younger to my son but looks as big as a 5-year-old child," says Saquib's mother. Children who are not properly fed lack nutrition. Lack of nutrition affects their growth.
Consider Ripon, the seven-year-old son of a rickshaw-puller who lives in a slum near Kamalapur railway station. Ripon is not healthy at all. And that's why he has become a source of worry for his parents. While other children of the slum play, Ripon sits at home. Ripon has suffered from malnutrition because he does not eat properly. And there are tens of thousands of malnourished children in Bangladesh.
Lack of enough food causes malnutrition. And lack of nutrition affects the physical and mental growth of children. It also makes children more vulnerable to diseases as malnourished children do not develop immunity. Thus they become ill and weak. They mostly suffer from illness.
Malnutrition can cause blindness and physical disabilities. A recent study of Unicef says that Bangladesh lost nearly $24 billion in past 10 years because of malnutrition.
A report published in an annual report of Helen Keller International has stressed the need for increasing investment in nutrition. Malnutrition is one of the key indicators of poverty in a country and it blocks social and economic development.
Says Saheen Ahmed, Principal of College of Home Economics, "Malnutrition in Bangladesh is caused by lack of enough food and calorie. Those who are poor and jobless can't afford enough food and calories. In our country, jobs are mostly seasonal. While poor people get work during the harvest, they remain unemployed when there is no farm work. So, poor people can't take nutritious food."
World Food Program recommends a daily intake of 23 10 calories of food for a healthy person, while the WHO standard is 2122 calories. In Bangladesh, average per capita calorie intake is 1950, at least 16 per cent less than the normal requirement.
"The first three years are very important for the growth of a child. This is also the best period for investment in a child. An investment of one US dollar at this stage brings the benefit of seven dollars," according to a publication of Unicef.
The first three years are also considered the most ideal period for a child's physical and mental growth. Unfortunately, most children in the world do not get enough attention and care during this period.
The launching of a 10-year National Nutrition Project raises hope of some improvement in the nutrition status of the poor people. But it has failed to meet the expectations.
Engineer Mohammad Nazmul Ahsan says, "The project may be extended or it can be brought under another project called "Health and Nutrition Population Sector Programme." Nutrition will then be one of the sub-sectors. This project has been extended up to 2010.
The issue of malnutrition in children is a challenge for Bangladesh in the new millennium. According to the WHO standard, the status of physical growth (weight and height) is very critical and complicated.
Bangladesh lags behind many other countries in the field of nutrition. Many pre-school children are physically short due to malnutrition. According to one source, there are about 9.5 million children who are shorter than the average. About 56 per cent children suffer from low weight.
A 1990 target to cut the number of malnourished under-5 children by half is yet to be fulfilled.