Fighting undernutrition with special food and education

by Heidi Nicklin, Ruth Bücker,  2011/03/29

Permanent hunger, under- and malnutrition can cause a number of grave deficiency symptoms. At first, the body will try to compensate for the lack by slowing down bodily and mental productivity and performance. However, a lack of concentration is a relatively harmless deficiency symptom.

In comparison, the more serious consequences are a weakened immune system and allegedly harmless diseases such as diarrhoea, measles or respiratory illnesses which can be fatal. According to estimates of the World Food Programme (WFP), more than ten million children a year die under the age of five, with 53 percent of the deaths caused by hunger and malnutrition.

Half a year after the floods, numerous people are still living in tents and under dismal conditions. Photo: humedica/Toni Großhauser

According to estimates, the heavy floods that affected Pakistan in August 2010 claimed 1700 lives. About 20 percent of the country were flooded and devastated. More than 15 million people were affected by the masses of water and the devastation they left behind, among them more than eight million children.

Even before the disaster, the problem of under- and malnutrition had been alarming. The floods caused the situation to aggravate further in particular among those living in rural areas. Also due to the water masses, a drastic number of people were deprived of their means of providing food for themselves.

It is above all children under the age of five and pregnant or nursing mothers who are affected by the consequences of undernutrition. According to studies, 23 percent of children living in rural areas of Pakistan are of very small stature due to undernutrition. Many of them die even before their fifth birthday, as their body organs could not develop their full function.

In order to protect children from the consequences of under- and malnutrition, humedica has been running a programme for providing food and preventing undernutrition from spreading further since October 2010. In cooperation with Sternstunden e.V. and our local partner Riverside Slum Children Project, this programme is being run in the district of Sindh, which is most strongly affected by the famine. In the framework of this project, humedica also offers treatment at mobile hospitals.

On behalf of the numerous children whom we could help thanks to Sternstunden e.V. and thanks to your diverse donations, we would like to tell you about the fates and history of recovery of a few girls and their families:


Shabana is about ten months old. "About ten months", because mothers mostly bear their children at home, there are no birth certificates, and the women in particular have never been given the opportunity of learning how to count or calculate.

Little Shabana: unfortunately no solitary case in Pakistan. Photo: humedica/Heidi Nicklin

When humedica coordinator Heidi Nicklin met little Shabana for the first time, the child had a body weight of 3.5 kilograms and was extremely weak. Her mother could not provide enough milk, and in her desperation - though with her best intentions - she had resolved to feed the little girl buffalo milk. Back then, the mother did not know how harmful this was for the infant's internal organs.

In the face of Shabana's state of health and the general situation, Heidi Nicklin decided that it would be best for the little girl to be treated at a hospital specialised in undernutrition. Mother and daughter were taken to hospital and treated there. At special instruction courses, the mother was told why buffalo milk was harmful for her child and how she was to feed Shabana instead, in future.


Sabia is one and a half year old and has a body weight of only little more than four kilograms. She is the youngest of six children. Full of doubts, the parents at first refused to accept the additional food that was dispensed by humedica and was essential for their little daughter's survival.

After many meetings and comprehensive explanations and discourses about their youngest child's state of health, the parents finally agreed on giving Sabia our high-calorie additional food and take her to hospital to have her tuberculosis treated. They wanted their child to survive.


For the time being, Madja has overcome her severe state of undernutrition. Information campaigns among the mothers contribute to maintaining this state. Photo: humedica/Heidi Nicklin

Madja is six months old and her mother cannot nurse her sufficiently. As a consequence, the little girl was constantly sucking her fingers, and crying with hunger. The small family lives in the surroundings of one of the humedica mission locations, where we offer medical treatment.

When the young mother heard of humedica and that we could help her little daughter, she packed some belongings and was immediately taken to a special hospital by the humedica coordinator.

In the meantime, Madja has recovered substantially, she has gained weight, and thanks to her daughter's beginning recovery the mother is less tense. But still, she continues to look more worried than other women. She has already lost two children, because she could not feed them sufficiently. Madja, in turn, will live.

Individual fates, but no solitary cases

Many women are experiencing the same as Madja's or Sabia's mothers: suffering from undernutrition themselves, their bodies cannot produce enough milk for feeding their children. This also was the reason for beginning undernutrition in another little boy, whose story was told by coordinator Heidi Nicklin.

The boy's recovery and the information provided to the mother were "the greatest success" for the humedica coordinator. Photo: humedica/Heidi Nicklin

humedica provided the mother with infant milk, and the woman was shown how to feed it to her little boy. Furthermore, we showed her further possibilities of feeding her baby additionally with cheap local food that is suitable for infants.

During our regular visits we realised the obvious progress the young woman was making and we observed how her son recovered more and more each time we saw him. "This is the greatest success for me personally!“ said Heidi Nicklin cheerfully.

The relief measures we could implement thanks to the donations we have received, enabled us to help Shabana, Madja and Sabia to recover from their state of undernutrition. In addition, we organised education meetings in the framework of which nursing and pregnant women were informed about what they had to take into account when feeding their children.

Furthermore, we offer training measures to the local staff of our partner organisation Riverside Slum Children Project, in order to ensure the employees recognise undernutrition and know how to treat the deficiency symptoms using the relief goods provided by humedica.

Seeing these children and the positive results of the treatment humedica could offer them and many others, causes the humedica teams in Germany and Pakistan to be highly grateful. Please continue supporting our relief with the objective of saving lives. Thank you very much!

      humedica e.V.
      Donation reference “Flood Relief Pakistan
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

You can also support us by means of making a donation via our online donation form, or by sending us a text message: send the reference DOC to +49 8 11 90 and make a donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros being directly channelled into the humedica project work.

"A country with children is a country with a future. Having children and raising them can be compared to the work of a woodsman who plants a tree." (Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor of Germany)

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