Helping the Children Stay Alive!
By Awake! correspondent in Nigeria
POLLUTED water, limited food supplies, widespread disease and infection—these conditions are common in developing lands. However, Dr. Chizu Okudo, a Nigerian pediatrician, told Awake!: ‘Ignorance and neglect [of proper hygiene] on the part of parents help to create conditions favorable to diseases.’
Continues Dr. Okudo: ‘The older generation often advises younger parents that watery diarrhea washes out impurities and should be left to run its course.’ Following such erroneous advice, parents leave their ailing children untreated. Death often results.
Life, though, is precious to all who honor “the source of life.” (Psalm 36:9) God-fearing parents, therefore, do not let superstitions or local customs endanger the lives of their children. And, says the director general of health in Malaysia, “disease prevention . . . must start in the home.”
Too Many Mouths to Feed?
“Food shortages” characterize our time, and the developing lands have been particularly hard hit. (Matthew 24:7) Complicating the problem is the fact that “pockets of extremely high fertility—above six children per woman—still exist throughout Africa and the Middle East,” states Planning the Global Family, a Worldwatch Institute report.
Why, then, do not African couples limit the size of their families? The Worldwatch report explains: “A[n African] woman’s economic and social standing rises with the number of children she bears, particularly since children represent extra hands to help with farming, marketing, and other tasks.” The book Africa in Crisis adds: “The high probability that children will not live encourages African parents to have large families.” In some African countries, nearly a fifth of all babies die in their first year! Ironically, though, having many children often creates a vicious circle of crowded, unsanitary quarters and inadequate sanitation—the very conditions that play a large part in killing children.
Doctors further say that a woman needs time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth before conceiving again. Otherwise, her ability to have healthy babies can be seriously impaired.
These facts notwithstanding, Africans tend to resist the idea of family planning.* Individuals, though, should not dismiss the matter without serious thought. Christians might consider that while the Bible does not condemn having children, it does say at 1 Timothy 5:8: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith.” Having too large a family may make it impossible for parents to provide adequate food, clothing, and shelter for their offspring. Although a personal matter, some couples have thus learned to practice contraception and avoid having more children than they can properly care for.
Breast-Feeding Versus Bottle-Feeding
“Malnutrition caused by poor child feeding practices claims over 10 times as many lives as actual famine,” says researcher William Chandler. “Coupled with diarrheal dehydration, malnutrition is the leading killer in the world.” Often, the ‘poor feeding practices’ begin in infancy.
Breast milk is the ideal food for most infants because it contains all the needed nutrients. It is easily and rapidly digested. It is always fresh and at the right temperature. It contains antibodies that protect and help the baby to build up resistance to infections. Breast-feeding also provides an infant with loving attention, essential to emotional development.
As women take on secular jobs, however, breast-feeding declines in many developing countries. Consequently, many African babies are fed powdered formulas. Such formulas are nutritious when correctly prepared under sanitary conditions. “In poor areas of the world, however,” reported Time magazine, “that is sometimes impossible. Mothers may unknowingly mix powdered formula with contaminated water or, to save money, dilute it too much.” The results can be deadly.
Queen, a Nigerian mother of seven, recalls that hospital nurses introduced her babies to bottle-feeding right from the start. Queen continued the procedure at home. However, her six children all suffered from serious and repeated diarrhea—one almost died. Her husband says: “We realized that our sixth child was being infected through the feeding bottle, so we stopped using it, and she recovered. Now Queen is breast-feeding our seventh child during its first few months.”
The message? Put your baby to the breast as soon as possible! Eat a balanced diet yourself so that you can produce healthy milk. A side benefit of breast-feeding is that it tends to delay the onset of menstruation after the birth of a baby. It is thus called nature’s contraceptive.
Feed Them Right!
Sometimes, though, African children are fed breast milk exclusively well into their 18th month of life. “When weaned,” says William Chandler, “many children are given adult foods they cannot chew or digest, or that are unnourishing.”
UNICEF’s office in Côte d’Ivoire produced a poster that advises mothers: “After five months, more than the breast.” Mother’s milk should be supplemented by fruit, cereals, and vegetables that have been cooked and strained and that are thus soft enough to be chewed and swallowed by an infant. A Nigerian mother named Ijeoma breast-fed each of her four children during their first four months. She continued breast-feeding for up to 12 months, gradually replacing it by spoon- or bottle-fed meals of fruit juices, pap, and other preparations. She observed strict hygiene in preparing meals. The result? Her children have grown up healthy and have had few infections.
As the child grows, a balanced diet will help him stay healthy. A meal of only carbohydrates, such as yams, cassava, or polished rice, will not provide sufficient nutrition. His body also needs proteins, vitamins, and minerals, which are found in meat, eggs, milk, beans, corn, and a variety of vegetables and fruits.
Important too is how food is handled and stored. It may seem tempting to use spoilable food that has been left standing unrefrigerated for a couple of days, but DO NOT USE IT! “Contaminated food is frequently unsafe and may lead to repeated attacks of diarrhoea and other infectious diseases.” Therefore, (1) wash your hands before touching or preparing foods. (2) Eat food immediately after it is cooked—don’t let it stand for long at room temperature. (3) Keep your kitchen, your cooking utensils, your clothes, and yourself clean and tidy at all times.—World Health magazine.
Germs and parasites abound in polluted water. So filter or boil water before using it. Rinse eating utensils with boiling water, and wash your hands before handling food.
Indeed, perhaps the simplest health safeguard is to maintain a high standard of cleanliness. In developing lands, though, this can be a real challenge.
A survey of developing lands revealed that in Latin America, the majority of mothers want no more children. “Only in Africa did a decided minority of the women have this view.”—State of the World 1985, Worldwatch Institute.
[Box on page 5]
Some Symptoms of Malnutrition
▪ Low energy—child avoids vigorous play
▪ Poor appetite—child refuses food, eats little
▪ Slow growth—child is too small for his age
▪ Reduced resistance—frequent illness from minor infections
Some Causes of Malnutrition
▪ Lack of food
▪ Plenty of food but the wrong kind
▪ Bottle-feeding with weak mixtures or unhygienic handling
▪ Intestinal parasites, which cause diarrhea or vomiting
[Box/Pictures on page 7]
Other Lifesaving Measures*
Over 2,000 children die each day from diseases such as measles, polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, and tuberculosis—all of which, doctors claim, are easily preventable by immunization. Many parents have thus made a personal decision to have their children inoculated against these diseases. Nigeria, for example, has the EPI (Expanded Programme on Immunization). Perhaps a similar program exists in your country.—See Awake! of August 22, 1965, for further information on vaccination.
Remember, though, that for a child to receive full protection, it may be necessary to return for booster shots. Often parents are concerned about the mild fevers and aches that may develop after a child’s first inoculation. However, many parents reason that such minor discomfort is a small price to pay for a child’s protection from death-dealing disease.
Familiarize yourself also with ORT (Oral Rehydration Therapy).* In a recent ten-year span, some 30 million children died of the dehydration and malnutrition caused by diarrhea. A simple solution of glucose, salt, and water, however, can save your child’s life if diarrhea strikes. Given as a drink, it increases the body’s capacity to absorb fluid to replace what is lost through diarrhea and vomiting. If you cannot obtain the prepackaged salts, follow this simple recipe: Mix one level teaspoonful of table salt, eight level teaspoonfuls of sugar, and one quart of water. ORT “averts death in 90 percent of diarrheal dehydration cases.”
In spite of all precautions, children may still get infections and intestinal parasites. How can one be alerted to the presence of such dangerous conditions? A weight-progress chart, easily obtainable in many lands, can help. Simply weigh your child each month and record the weight on a chart that shows the normal growth rate. Comparison of the two weights will indicate any faltering in his development.
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
average healthy child
may indicate poor diet (visit doctor or clinic)
1 Kg = 2.2 lb.
1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, 4th year, 5th year
This is provided for information only. Awake! does not recommend one type of medical treatment over another.
See “A Salty Drink That Saves Lives!” in the September 22, 1985, issue of Awake!