Daily Mirror - Print Edition

Malnutrition among young girls and the Hippocratic Oath - EDITORIAL

13 Mar 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Our Health Ministry, according to a recent report in the ‘Daily Mirror’ has rejected out-of-hand a report published in the prestigious British ‘Lancet’ magazine concerning child malnutrition and underweight young girls in our country.
If the matter was not so sad and serious, the denial of the Ministry Secretary would be funny.

A UNICEF report posted on January 4 this year showed that 3.9 million people were moderately food insecure with over 10,000 households facing severe food insecurity.
Over 2.9 million children need humanitarian assistance to access lifesaving nutrition, health, education, water and sanitation, protection, and social protection services. 
The reports of our very own Central Bank state “...The latest official assessment of the Family Health Bureau of Ministry of Health that was conducted under the concept of Nutrition Month in October 2022 on nutritional status of children under five years, reveals the nutritional status of children deteriorated in 2022.

Despite the reported ‘stabilisation of our economy’ in the aftermath of the IMF debt restructuring agreement on 20 March 2023, we all know that many families continued facing loss of livelihoods. In other words they were forced to search for coping methods. The most obvious was cutting down on meals, nutrition, children’s education and health.
This reality was confirmed by studies undertaken by the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Mission in May 2023.

A past Govenor of the Central Bank pointed out that over 500,000 daily paid workers in and around Colombo lost their sources of income during the Covid pandemic. The Easter Sunday bombings and the economic meltdown which resulted in the country’s bankruptcy has ensured that these people have not been able to resume their occupations to-date.
The half-completed buildings and the machinery idling beside them for the past two to three years which line the main roadways to Colombo bear ample testimony to this fact. 
According to Central Bank reports the informal sector (temporary workforce) account for 58.4 per cent of employment in the country. The report also reveals a poverty level of 14.3 per cent and growing.

In plain language poverty is growing. It is causing economic turmoil on livelihoods, food security, and nutritional status of a majority of our people. Together with the high cost of living, people’s ability to cope has been diminishing by the day. For these families it means cutting down on food and nutritional intake. 
The Ministry Secretary’s claim that ‘ONLY’ 15,763 children are in a state of severe malnutrition is somewhat similar to the cynical statement of the earlier spokesman of the electricity department who claimed estate children should use kerosene oil lamps to study.
We would like to remind the Health Secretary that even one severely malnourished child in the country, is one malnourished child too many. That he/she sees ‘ONLY’ 15,763 severely malnourished children as being an acceptable number is outrageous.

The secretary needs to resign his post. Secretaries to ministries should understand that their job is to keep their subject ministers updated as to the condition of the people in this country and set red lights blinking when matters are taking a turn for the worse.
They are not in these positions to cover-up worsening situations or to protect subject ministers. This is especially so regarding the children of this country. Are we, in common parlance ‘dissing’ over fifty percent of our people?

We all realise this country is in a bad position economically. But seeing no evil, or hearing no evil is not the answer to the problem. Suggesting means to mitigate the problem at the least is a secretary’s duty-bound obligation.
Is the secretary who bears the prefix doctor to his/her name, so hard hearted to castigate 15,763 children to the dustbins of history? Come, come minister’s secretary, it is time you pulled up your stethoscope and live up to the Oath of Hippocrates you took so many long year ago.
The Hippocratic Oath, is an oath of ethics historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards.