I was in Akure, the capital of Ondo State to do plead the cause of the child. We were on break and I took a walk. I had not walked for five minutes when I saw a private Crèche, Nursery and Primary School. I would not have been attracted to it normally, if not that I saw a crowd of people, mostly women standing in front of the school and shouting, ‘bring her out. We say, ‘bring her out.’ We did not send her to force feed the child, this wicked witch.’
Tempted to feed my nose, I got close and stayed in front of the shop opposite to the school and asked the owner of the shop what the matter was. She sighed heavily and told me that an eight month old baby died, while she was being force fed by a care giver. The care giver claimed that the child refused to eat so she decided to force her.
I was very sad! I stayed for a while in front of the shop and asked for sachet water, called pure water. I checked it to be sure it has NAFDAC number. I decided to sit for a while. As I sat and my head bowed, the pure water fell from my hand as tears streamed down my face. The shop owner, tapped me gently and asked curiously, ‘oga you know them before, no be me tell you wetin happen.’
I slowly raised my head a bit, without looking up fully and said to her, ‘No, I am sad because the baby’s death was avoidable. That child did not died as a result of the ignorance of the care giver.’
I told her that it has been found that ‘feeding issues affect approximately 25-40% of children, from newborns to adolescents. Approximately 80% of children with developmental disabilities have a feeding problem. Feeding and swallowing problems are symptoms often associated with complex medical diagnoses.
I went further to explain to her that ‘force-feeding, defined as placing food into the child’s mouth without giving the child the clear opportunity to accept food independently or with instruction’ should not be used when a child does not show interest in feeding. Rather the parents should seek medical support. Working with Feeding Therapists, custodians of the child should attempt to use the techniques that are the least intrusive in feeding the child. They should go for treatment plans which encourage a ‘positive reinforcement component (such as praise or toy play), and they may also include other techniques, which do not allow children to end a meal by crying or turning away.
I told her a story reported by BBC world service in November 2011, which reads, ‘Gloria Dwomoh, a 31-year-old nurse from Walthamstow, London, was sent to prison for three years after being convicted of allowing or causing the death. The 10-month-old, named in court as Diamond, was forced to take solid foods from the age of six months. She died in March 2010. The Old Bailey heard Diamond died from pneumonia caused by food in her lungs that had blocked her airways.’
I went further to use the opportunity to shed light on a child’s nutrition saying that I agree that a child from 6 months while continuing with breast feeding requires more than breast milk. He or she should start with semi solids to solid. I also know that early or late start of other foods may interfere with growth of the child.
I also agree that frequent small mix foods at a time – proteins-body building, carbohydrates-energy giving, fats and oils –energy and warmth, vegetables and fruits-protection are very good. The child should be given vitamin A- paw-paw, sugar, flour, carrots, liver, mangoes, palm oil; zinc- egg, meat and fish; iron- egg, meat, fish, liver, pumpkin, iodine- salt, onions, fish, leafy vegetables.
I told her that Vitamin A, which is given from 6-59 months will help good eye sight, protect from infection, iron will help formation of blood and mental alertness and iodine will help brain growth, mental and physical development, prevent goiter. I ended up saying that hands must be washed before and after preparation of the child’s food.
By the time I was through and raised up my head fully, the woman, already engrossed in our discussion was with pen and paper jotting down all I have said. As I stood up to take my leave, I asked the lady why she was writing, she told me she belongs to the drama department of her religious group and community and she would take it upon herself to ensure that the issues are depicted in their next presentation to their members.
My last today is very sad, yet very instructive. Growing up in the village force feeding was the order of the day. For many children, it was the accepted way of feeding in the community. I urge you to please help us spread the word. The impact in few cases immediate and in most cases long term.