Dharavi diaries: The mystery of Aryan’s malnutrition

Healthyurbanworld will be following a severely malnourished child for a six months and note how the programme helps the baby’s development. 

Aryan (centre)
Aryan (centre) at SNEHA’s day care centre

Two and a half year old, Aryan Kothari is sick yet again. Almost every month, he suffers from a bout of diarrhoea or fever with a cold. Aryan is severely malnourished. He weighs just about 10 kgs and is only 86.8 cms tall. He been malnourished for nearly a year and has been in SNEHA’s day care centre at Matunga Labour Camp, Dharavi since September last year. He has been on medical nutrition therapy (a supplement with essential micronutrients mixed with peanut butter) for a few months.

His mother, Lata Kothari, 22, is at her wits end. “He does not eat well. I try so hard. People also say that since both my husband and me are thin, he is also thin,”said Lata. She shares the misconception of many parents who attribute the child’s malnourishment to genes.

Aryan was breastfed well for six months before his mother tried to give him supplementary food. “He just refused to eat anything. At most he would have one or two bites. I still find it very difficult to make him eat,”said Lata. She spends nearly two hours feeding him a small meal (a few mouthfuls, usually). The day care centre teachers too complain that Aryan is a poor eater.

Aryan's mother, Lata Kothari with the community organiser, Kunal
Aryan’s mother, Lata Kothari with the community organiser, Kunal

Aryan’s case is befuddling as his mother tries hard to follow most of the instructions provided by SNEHA community organisers. She tries to give him a nutritious diet and keep both him and his surroundings as clean as possible.

Recent studies have posited that poor sanitation, despite good diet, is one of the major causes of malnourishment. In all probability, Aryan is being exposed to a lot of germs. His house, though spic and span, is couched between a menagerie of houses. The house, which is on a mezzanine floor, has zero ventilation and no light. They need to switch on the tubelight all day long.

Aryan has to climb this steep staircase to enter the house
Aryan has to climb this steep staircase to enter the house

When we entered the house on a rainy day, the passage leading to the house was submerged in water. One has to climb a steep staircase to enter or exit the house, reducing his chances of outdoor exposure.

“We are trying to counsel these parents about how to feed the children and what is good for them. But if their circumstance is such that that they have to live in such unhygienic conditions, it becomes difficult for us to get rid of the problem of malnutrition in such cases,”said Dr Ganesh Mane, project co-ordinator, SNEHA.

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