More children at risk of malnourishment


As inflation increases day by day it has made a great impact on various issues. Malnutrition is one of the severe problems that have arisen with this socio-economic crisis.

According to doctors, most patients admitted to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children (LRH) are suffering from malnutrition and this has influenced their mortality and morbidity negatively, increased the duration of hospital stay and ultimately increased the cost of treatments.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Consultant Paediatrician at LRH Dr. Deepal Perera said that even though malnutrition among child patients is observed all around the world, Sri Lanka’s situation is more complicated than ever.

“Two weeks ago we had tested 53 children in ward number 2 and found 20 per cent of them are suffering from malnutrition. The most important thing is that most of them are suffering from acute malnutrition,” he said.

He further said that still they have not come to any kind of conclusion and have advised doctors and nurses to record the weight and height of the patients.

“With this economic crisis, most families cannot afford the prices of goods. Therefore parents in Sri Lanka cannot feed their children well. As a result of that, most of the children especially in rural communities do not receive essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. This issue has severely affected to the increase of malnutrition among children,” he added.

He also said that they can come to a conclusion within next two months, how the crisis has affected the malnutrition.

Research findings

“We need approximately 430 children for our research. At this level we did only a ground research as we noticed a decrease in children’s weight and height. As I have been a Paediatrician for 20 years, I observed and looked deep into this issue. If we continue research we will be able to get the support of the World Health Organisation to eradicate malnutrition from Sri Lanka,” he said.

When looking deep into the issue – child malnutrition in Sri Lanka – we found a research done by the Institute of Policy Studies in Sri Lanka (IPS) which claims that child malnutrition can be found in socially deprived regions such as the estate sector, where prevalence of malnutrition is more severe irrespective of how malnutrition is measured.

Previously speaking to Ceylon Today (published on 24.06.2022) Secretary of the Medical and Civil Rights Physicians’ Trade Unions Alliance, Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara predicted that in the future, malnutrition will be a common issue in Sri Lanka, as citizens cannot fulfil their daily nutrition requirements due to skyrocketing inflation and many other issues.

He had said many people in rural areas like Wellawaya and Hambantota are in grave danger, as many of them cannot have a balanced meal and that has led to serious health issues such as malnutrition and anaemia in the rural context. He said, “Even the Prime Minister says there will be a shortage of food in the months to come and the current situation will worsen in the future. In this situation, low-income families will not be able to feed their children because they cannot afford the food prices.”

Dr. Bandara said, “Though we can imagine that they will find something to eat, it will also be impossible in the future. We cannot ask people to keep eating jack, breadfruit and sweet potatoes. People are not in a position to consume meat, fish, and eggs and as a result they will not get the essential nutrients.”

Changing diet a major challenge

The current inflation in Sri Lanka can also be considered a major issue that affects malnutrition among children. Nowadays parents are unable to provide a balanced diet for their children with the economic crisis.

Meanwhile providing practical and long-term solutions for this issue Prof. Pujitha Wickramasinghe, a Senior Professor at Department of Paediatrics of University of Colombo said, people should change their lifestyle and manage their eating habits to get out of this situation.

“Malnutrition in Sri Lanka does not emerge at once. This situation can be seen in Sri Lanka for a long time. I do not mean that the current socio-economic crisis did not affect the increase in malnutrition. But I believe that we have the strength to ensure that this is not a problem,” he said.

The professor also said this can be prevented by changing the wrong ideas people have about certain food items and the wrong diets they have been following for years.

“For example, some people think that many expensive varieties of fish are very nutritious. So they spend a lot of money on them. But in times of crisis like this, we can buy more low-priced fish in larger quantities for the same amount of money. Then we can eat them more often. There is no lack of nutrition. Instead of rice, you can look for other nutritious alternatives. Specially, a food crisis can occur when there is a shortage of imported food items such as rice, imported fruits but we have options for that. In particular, there is no need to eat rice for all three meals,” he added.

He stated that while taking steps to reduce wastage and post-harvest damage to prevent a food crisis, it is not a problem to meet people’s nutritional needs if they choose quality foods which are cost-effective.

“This will not be a big problem if we manage existing resources and understand what our priorities are. We can grow food in our own backyard. We can get used to local food items such as jackfruit, breadfruit and sweet potatoes which are really nutritious than most imported food. It is important to eat for the sake of maximum nutrition.”

Considering the above facts, it shows that the main reason for the increase in malnutrition among children is the failure to provide them with proper nutrients. It has also been affected by the consequences of existing socio-economic crisis.

The Ministry of Health and relevant stakeholders are encouraged to develop new and complementary models of nutrition service delivery to better target and reach underserved populations.

By Sahan Tennekoon