COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, 19 October 2009 – Five-year-old Jasmeen suffers from rickets – a preventable disorder caused by malnutrition which manifests as a softening of the bones. Her legs are severely deformed and bowed.

Arafat, age eight, was diagnosed with rickets when he was three-years-old and was not able to attend school. He found it hard to make friends. “My legs were always painful. I couldn’t run,” he says. “People spoke badly to me, called me a ‘lame man’.” Rickets can be prevented in this part of the world through early treatment including making calcium-rich foods a normal part of children’s diets.

The healing process

Without intervention by the local non-governmental organization Social Assistance and Rehabilitation of the Physically Vulnerable (SARPV), supported by UNICEF, Jasmeen, Arafat and many other Bangladeshi children would suffer from crippling deformities for the rest of their lives. In severe cases, if children do not receive treatment, they can lose the ability to walk.

Physiotherapist Murshedul Alam, who works for SARPV, advised Jasmeen’s mother to improve Jasmeen’s diet and give her a calcium tablet each day. Mr. Alam makes monthly home visits along with a field monitoring staff to track progress. They counsel parents and provide free calcium and health services those who are too poor to afford them. The project currently supports the families of over 800 children with rickets.
Arafat’s legs, which were less severely deformed than Jasmeen’s, have now healed. His mother added lime to rice, and had him eating more leafy vegetables and protein.

Rickets in Bangladesh

According to the National Rickets Survey conducted in 2008 with support from UNICEF and CARE, about 550,000 children between the ages of 1 and 15 have deformities caused by rickets in Bangladesh. Poor nutrition is widespread. Climate conditions and natural disasters frequently impact crop production and food security. Access to diverse and balanced diets remains a challenge, especially for poor families.

A key component of the UNICEF-supported project to reduce rickets is informational, as there is very little knowledge on a community level of the causes of rickets. Training health professionals in public health facilities is another important component of the project, as early diagnosis is critical.
“If other mothers knew how to take care of their children, their children would be cured,” says Arafat’s mother, Minari. “That is why I am sharing my experience with other families in my community.”

By Casey McCarthy