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Expert highlights lack of access to nutrition for differently-abled
Staff Reporter
 GUWAHATI, Dec 16 - Murali Padmanabhan, a gender and disability expert from the organisation Light for the World, on Friday highlighted issues concerning the lack of access to nutrition for the disabled.

Taking part in a media interaction at the Guwahati Press Club, Padmanabhan said that even from childhood, disabled children are neglected by society and policy makers.

“ICDS is a big programme for providing nutrition to children below five years of age. But, unfortunately, there is no sitting arrangement in the ICDS centres for disabled children. No one is taking the concern about the growth of the mindset of disabled children. If these children get the opportunity from childhood, then they will find their way to survive in future by themselves,” he said.

According to Padmanabhan, nutrition and disability are closely linked - with bad nutrition being a cause of disability, and persons with disabilities being more likely to be malnourished.

Citing examples, he said that many types of disability can be caused by malnutrition through lack of micronutrients or macronutrients, or through exposure to high concentrations of anti-nutrients-toxins found in food, such as those in poorly processed cassava, which can lead to permanent neurological damage.

Having a disability can also lead to malnutrition through decreased nutrient intake, increased nutrient loss, and an unmet need for increased nutrients. The last mentioned can especially put children at risk of further complications.

“Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), many of which are linked to nutrition, cause 49.8 per cent of deaths and disability in low and middle-income countries. But less than 2 per cent of donor health spending goes to NCDs per year ($611 million in 2014).

“Children with a disability are consistently reported to have a high incidence of malnutrition, stunting and wasting. For example, children with cerebral palsy can be up to three times more likely to be underweight than non-disabled children.

“Between 250,000 and 500,000 children worldwide are considered to be at risk of becoming blind each year from vitamin A deficiency, a syndrome easily prevented by oral supplementation costing just a few cents per child.

“For a similarly minute amount - five cents per person per year - salt iodisation remains the most cost-effective way of delivering iodine and preventing cognition damage in children in iodine-deficient areas. These low-cost measures help not only children with disabilities but also their mothers as they labour to raise infants and children in strained circumstances,” Padmanabhan said.

Dr Chiranjeeb Kakoty, consultant on hospital and health management in his speech mentioned that till date definitions of disability and malnutrition are not clear to most of the people and policy makers. Stunting and wasting are considered as malnutrition, but obesity is not yet considered as malnutrition.

Malnutrition can occur because of over-nutrition. These kinds of deficiency lead to disability. He stated that early childhood stunting, which is measured as low height for age, is caused by poor nutrition and diarrhoea. Malnutrition in mothers can lead to a number of preventable disabilities in children.

Improved nutrition is the platform for progress in health, education, employment, female empowerment and poverty and inequality reduction. Mothers aged 18 or under, are more likely to have stunted children, and children are less likely to be stunted if their mother has secondary education.

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