Arish was born on the 16th of October 2018 at the MSF birthing unit in Chaman, Balochistan. He went home with a healthy and clear bill from the facility.
Just 4 short days after his birth, he was back at the hospital in severe distress. His mother, Malika, was unable to produce enough milk to feed him.
“When I couldn’t feed him, I gave him green tea instead. My mother-in-law said it was the best thing to do and that’s what I had done with the rest of my 8 children also.”
Green tea and black tea is poisonous for newborn babies. Their frail digestive systems cannot handle the components of tea, which are acidic for them. Malika admitted that in the past her new born children would fall ill after she gave them green tea and some of them even developed pneumonia, but then recovered. She didn’t realize just how lucky they were to have survived. Arish, unfortunately, may not be as lucky.
This does not surprise Dr. Ziaullah, a graduate from the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba and a full time doctor at the MSF facility at the DHQ Hospital in Chaman.
“You would be surprised by how common such cases are. They use black tea and green tea as go-to remedies for everything; burns/ cuts/ and also feeding babies. Arish’s condition is critical and we suspect neonatal sepsis.”
Normally after a baby is born, they will lose around 10% of their body weight in the first week. In Arish’s case, he has lost 50%. This makes his condition critical.
When Malika realized there was something terribly wrong with her baby, she took him to a private clinic before bringing him to MSF. The doctor at the private clinic put Arish on antibiotics.
“Antibiotics would not have been my first response of treatment for someone as young as Arish,” says Dr. Ziaullah. “If he had come to us, depending on his situation, we would have put an IVY to see if he improves first and not give him such an aggressive treatment- unless of course he was severely critical.”
On day 6, Dr. Farman who is a consultant with MSF, advised that Arish’s parents receive counseling to prepare them for the worst. A few hours later, Arish passed away in the nursery after a long and hard battle.
“Lack of education is one of the biggest issues we face in Balochistan. These families follow their local remedies blindly and so many lives are lost as a result of it.”
In Pakistan, many mothers (particularly in Baluchistan) tend to feed their newborns tea, herbs or formula milk, one of the major factors behind a stunted growth rate in children of a staggering 44 percent according to a report done by UNICEF. The rate of growth stunting is among the highest in the world because of a lethal mix of risk factors (if the babies survive): bad nutrition, hygiene problems and unclean water, combined with a lack of education for mothers.
Many of these women work in the fields and do not have time to return home and feed their babies who are left at the hands of aged mother-in-laws who have no other choice but to substitute the mothers milk with tea and other herbal concoctions.
An article in Medical Express dated November 2016 reads;
“The government, which claims to be “aware of the problem”, has set a goal of reducing the rate of stunting to 40 percent by 2018—but the issue isn’t mentioned in its ten-year plan. Most interventions are funded by international donors.”