Jemti with her daughter Radhika at their home in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh

Radhika’s MUAC (Middle Upper Arm Circumference), used for tracking a child’s health, went from 105 mm in September 2018 to a dangerous low of 96 mm in December 2018. She was suffering from Sever Acute Malnutrition. Her family, neighbours, the village community and everyone thought Radhika won’t make it to the next year. Everyone except her mother, Jemti Singh. 

A mother overburdened by responsibilities

Jemti lives in Dhar, a district in Madhya Pradesh known for its high prevalence of acute malnutrition in children. According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), the prevalence of underweight, stunting and wasting in Dhar is 42.8%, 42% and 25.8% respectively in children under 5 years of age. Residing in the Gandhwani block of Dhar, Jemti’s immediate family includes 3 more children and her husband while the extended family has a total of 15 members. They own a little over 1 acre of farm land where they grow maize, soybean and wheat. In the dry summer months they migrate to the neighbouring state of Gujarat to work as manual labours. 

With the farm, household chores, labour work and 2 more children to take care of, Jemti would find it difficult to devote enough time to Radhika. Even though she wanted to, she’d often be hard pressed between taking care of the family’s overall needs and looking after Radhika’s nutrition and hygiene. Radhika stared falling ill frequently leading to de-nutrition and weakness. She started losing weight and had become quite thin. Her mother recalls that Radhika would frequently have loose motions and diarrhoea. According to WHO, water borne diseases such as diarrhoea account for nearly 30% of the malnutrition cases globally. 

Around this time, the family was on migration and her condition continued to deteriorate. Like most of the other families in Dhar, they too believed in superstition. Thinking of her condition as general weakness, they took her to various godmen in the hope they will be able to cure her. Unfortunately, nothing worked. 

Breaking the resistance

During September 2018, Radhika was discovered to be suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition during a routine screening in her village. Her MUAC was recorded at 105 mm. It was necessary to get her admitted to the nearest NRC (Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre) immediately. Jemti was at her wits end and was all for going to the NRC. But being pregnant with her 4th child, the family was not keen on her and Radhika being away from home. It took some time to convince that the treatment provided at the NRC was the best course of action available. After much convincing by everyone, including Jemti herself, the family relented and Radhika was taken to Dhar NRC with her MUAC now dangerously low at 96mm. 

They stayed at the NRC for a total of 21 days. The situation was tricky since Jemti’s due date was nearing. Both Radhika and Jemti received the necessary treatment and care at the NRC. In January 2019 Radhika was back home much better than before. Jemti started participating in the community sessions on nutrition and hygiene conducted at the local Anganwadi Centre every week. She started implementing the sanitation practises recommended such as washing hands, safe disposal of baby excreta, filtering drinking water and safe storage etc. Seeing Radhika’s progress, her father too got closely involved and supported Jemti on adding a variety of nutritious food items to their diet. The family members now divided the household chores among themselves to leave time for Jemti to rest, and take care of Radhika and her new sibling.

Radhika is now 2 years old and healthy. Her MUAC now reads 139 mm and Jemti is glad she did not give up and continued fighting for her daughter. Whenever you ask her about the past, she feels proud that she always had the belief that there is a way! 

Stories of determination and belief gradually overcoming seemingly difficult obstacles aren't exactly scarce, and yet, everytime Jemti talks about her fight for raising Radhika to be healthy, you can't help be feel the palpable joy! 

Jemti with Radhika at an anganwadi centre based discussion session.


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