- One in every three children in Jamalpur is undersized
- Highest number of differently challenged children take birth in Jamalpur
- 72.8% babies are born underweight in the district
- Only 26% women receive antenatal and 24% postnatal health care
- The poverty rate in this district is also 52.5%
- In some families on Jamalpur chars, all the children are differently abled
- Over 2,00,000 people live on more than 50 chars of Jamalpur
Mahmud Hossain, 45, and Nasima Begum, 36, have four sons and a daughter. All the sons have been blind since a few months after their births; only the daughter is healthy and normal.
Due to acute financial crises, the couple, from Baniapukur village at Madarganj upazila in Jamalpur, could not afford treatment for them.
Nasima Begum said, "All of my four sons became blind within two to three months after birth. As we could not afford doctors due to poverty, we had them treated by a kabiraj (herbal medicine practitioner), but in vain."
She said, "We live from hand to mouth by cultivating only three bighas of our own land. Often, we are forced to borrow money from others to bear family expenses. We get the opportunity to eat fish and meat only once or twice a year. Buying fruits or milk from the market is out of the question for a poor family like us."
According to statistics, the number of differently abled children is increasing in Jamalpur due to poverty and malnutrition. According to a survey, "Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey", conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2019, one in every three children in the district is undersized. The district also tops the list in terms of the birth rate of physically challenged children.
According to the survey, only 27.2% of babies are born with the right weight in Jamalpur, the second in the list of districts with low birth weight in the country. Only in Sherpur is the situation worse than in Jamalpur.
In terms of prenatal and postnatal health care, the district is lagging behind all other districts. According to BBS, only 26% of women in the district receive antenatal and 24% have postnatal health care. However, the rate of access to health care in both cases in the country is 63.4% and 54.1% respectively.
Professor Dr Nazma Shahin of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University, notes, "A physically challenged, undersized or mentally challenged child is born due to iodine deficiency and malnutrition in the mother's womb."
"Nutritious food means that the daily food list should include the six groups of food. The six groups are carbohydrate, protein, vitamin, mineral, water and fat," she added.
Three of the seven unions in Madarganj upazila of Jamalpur are affected by the erosion of the Jamuna. The river is the only source of income for the people of this locality and poverty is a common phenomenon in the lives of the people of these remote char areas.
On recent visits to some chars of Madarganj, this correspondent saw that several families in Charshuva village of the upazila have differently abled children. In some families, all the children are differently abled.
Mursalina Begum is a resident of Char Kamaria. Her husband Sultan Hossain lives by fishing in the river. The couple have married off one of their two sons. Both the children of their eldest son, a day labourer, are differently abled.
Anwara Khatun, 34, lives next door. Her husband Abu Bakar is a day labourer on a char. They have two sons, both of whom are differently abled. The village kabiraj is the only source of the treatment of their sons.
Anwara Khatun said, "Both of our sons have been differently abled from the time of birth. We cannot afford treatment for our sons as we live from hand to mouth with the meagre income of my day-labourer husband."
Like Anwara of Charshuvar and Nasima Begum of Baniapukur, over 2,00,000 people live on more than 50 chars of Jamalpur trapped in poverty and malnutrition as their daily companions.
Talking to people in the char areas of Jamalpur, it was learned that most of them here cannot afford to buy enough food for their family members, let alone spend money on daily necessities like health, education and clothing.
According to the BBS, the poverty rate in this district is also 52.5%.
Pregnant women suffer from malnutrition
Madarganj community health worker Firoza Begum said most of the pregnant women in the char areas suffer from malnutrition due to a lack of awareness.
She said the women of the char areas do not get a balanced diet or necessary rest during pregnancy, which is vital for the growth of an unborn child. Most of them do not consult a doctor during pregnancy or take any kind of vaccine. As a result, most of the time babies are born with low weight. The birth rate of differently abled children is also higher in those areas.
This correspondent also found a lack of awareness among pregnant women on the Jamalpur chars during his visit.
One such woman is Saleha Akhter, 24. She never went to the doctor after becoming pregnant, although she is about to give birth at any moment to her third child. She does not even know what nutritious food is. Saleha Akhter's previous two children are also suffering from malnutrition.
Saleha told The Business Standard, "Due to financial crisis, we have no alternative to eating rice only. I could not feed the children anything other than rice."