The Scourge of Kwashiorkor and Marasmus in Developing Countries
In one of the war torn countries in Africa, a journalist once committed suicide after picturing a skeletal child dying and a vulture praying and waiting patiently to make a daily bread from the impending corpse of the child. You can imagine the agony such postures might have caused to the conscience of the journalist? An innocent and badly emaciated child with no flesh – all bones; a healthy and vibrant vulture waiting in anticipation for the child to die; and a journalist who was incapacitated and had no way to help – it’s really hurting. In Somalia and Congo for example, such scenes are ubiquitous; people mostly children are reduced to skeletons as a result of starvation and lack of medical care because of war. The scenes of children lying helplessly with flies walking into their eyes, nose, mouth, ears and all over their body are being shown regularly on our television stations and printed on the pages of our tabloids to appeal to the conscience of people who could help and the people behind the crises as well. When children are not fed well, the resultant effect is kwashiorkor and or marasmus. Kwashiorkor is a disease resulting from a deficiency of dietary protein relative to caloric intake while marasmus is as a result of slow starvation caused by a deficiency not only of protein but also of calories and other nutrients.
Child suffering from malnutrition on flickr.com by Julius!
Cicely Williams, a British physician was the first to observe this disease among the people of Gold Coast, present day Ghana in West Africa in 1933. Kwashiorkor originated from a Ghanaian local language of the Ga tribe meaning ‘first-second’. This was a disease suffered by a child when the mother brings forth a new baby while the elder one is still sucking her breast thus displacing the elder at the mother’s breast.
Today, kwashiorkor is beyond the ‘first-second’ hypothesis of the Ga people; it has expounded to include the dietary deficiency in children not at their mother’s breast but starved from the bodily requirement of nutritious food. Most of the developing countries can not provide the basic necessity of especially nutritious food for it’s children, hence the children develop swollen body and discoloured skin, thin and pale hair that could be pulled out effortlessly without pain, profound apathy, loss of appetite and stunt growth. Even when they claim there is food for the children, it’s an unbalanced diet. Kwashiorkor is one of the most common forms of protein-energy malnutrition (PEM).
Child sufering from malnutrition on flickr.com by nagillum
The World Health Organization reports that 1.5 to 3.5 percent of children in developing countries have severe protein-calorie malnutrition with some manifestations of kwashiorkor or marasmus. This is so because in most developing countries especially in the rural areas depend on their subsistence farming and feed from their products. In most cases, they are farmers who cultivate starch based crops like rice, cassava and yam etc; this implies that all their meals will be centered on starch based food – consuming starch in different forms. Secondly, most families in the developing countries can not afford a balanced diet – it’s a luxury to have beverages. Thirdly, some local traditions forbid children from eating some proteinous food. For example, in some traditions, children are not allowed to eat egg, meat or fish because they believe that when you feed a child with egg, meat or fish; your child will grow up to be a robber, so meat, egg and fish are meant for adults.
In spite of the deplorable situation of the children in the developing countries accruing from non nutritious meals, the incessant wars in these areas has further stifled and worsened their case. They become vulnerable to diseases and infections because their immune systems are weak due to malnutrition. There is the need for urgent improvements in the dietary pattern of these children and a proper and thorough education of their parents.