KABUL, Afghanistan- As United States troops withdraw from Afghanistan, malnourishment continues to spread, particularly among young children.
More than a decade after the fall of the Taliban government, extensive humanitarian aid and Western involvement intended to assist Afghanistan’s development and reconstruction threats have been spent in vain. Since 2012, cases of severe malnutrition among children have increased by at least 50 percent, according to the United Nations and the Afghanistan government.
Doctors Without Borders, the international medical assistance organization working to assist many Afghan-run hospitals, almost doubled the number of beds present in the pediatric wing of Bost Hospital, located in the capital of Helmand Province. But when 40 children to 50 children are treated daily and almost 200 children are admitted each month for acute malnutrition, even twice the number of beds is not enough. Because the children are so small, the lack of space has not deterred many from seeking care. They are, consequently, treated two or three to a bed.
Malnutrition, it seems, is increasing consistently among youth yet not among adults. One reason for this, posed by Dr. Nasreen Khan of Afghanistan’s Health Ministry, is that Afghan mothers are increasingly turning away from breast-feeding. And when so much of the milk the women use is powdered, a lack of access to clean water is absolutely detrimental to infants. Likewise, it is difficult for women who have many children to provide their children with enough sustenance, be it by breast or by bottle. This predicament is perpetuated by ongoing war.
The majority of severely increasing malnutrition cases has been reported mostly in provinces that have witnessed a large amount of the wreckage from war, such as Helmand, Kandahar, Kunar, Farah, Paktia and Paktika. Violence continues to plague Afghans and, as foreign troops begin to withdraw from the country, Afghanistan endures as one of the world’s poorest countries. Such extensive poverty, present in this manner, stunts the development both of Afghan children and the country as a whole.
Afghan youth face lifelong disadvantages as a result of the acute malnutrition they experience. According to a study conducted by the World Bank, children who live in communities that use toilets are on average two centimeters taller than those who live in communities without toilets. Yet aside from smaller size as a result of lower standards of sanitation, inadequate nutrition presents even more disruptive effects.
A lack of iron, for example, reduces brain development, essentially lowering concentration and memory abilities. Insufficient iodine and Vitamin A produces similar such crippling impairments that directly contribute to higher death rates among children under the age of five.
So after billions of dollars and a multitude of lives lost, poverty still plagues the future of Afghanistan. It is imperative, then, to focus on methods to solve this catastrophic conundrum. Acute malnutrition, studies have discovered, can often be resolved with relative speed simply with a constant supply of Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based paste that provides essential vitamins and nutrients to bring children back to a healthy state.
The benefits of supplying supplements such as this can bring returns up to 100 times more than the initial cost. Now that is something worth mulling over.
– Jaclyn Stutz
Sources: Nation, NY Times, The Guardian
Photo: Nigel Green Media