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<-Back to WTN Archives Malnutrition plagues Tibet's children (Japan Times)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Sunday, July 29, 2001

1. Malnutrition plagues Tibet's children (Japan Times)

Special to The Japan Times

NEW YORK -- Recent studies on children's health in Tibet reveal that almost half
of them suffer from malnutrition. As a result, they suffer from stunted growth
and their mental development has potentially been damaged.

In spite of the Chinese government's insistence that the region has made
economic and social progress, Tibet continues to be one of the poorest countries
in the world, with a per capita income of less than $100. New public health and
social policies are needed to ensure that children won't continue to be the
greatest victims of a difficult and unresolved political situation.

In 1996, the Western Consortium for Public Health, a private U.S.-based
organization, said 60 percent of the children studied fell drastically below
accepted international growth reference values and concluded that the height of
Tibetan children was a matter of grave concern. Their data indicated that the
children's shortness was a result of nutritional deficiencies -- chronic
malnutrition during the first three years of life -- rather than the consequence
of genetics or altitude, as had been previously suggested.

Chronic malnutrition makes children more vulnerable to common childhood diseases
such as intestinal and respiratory infections, which are frequently fatal. In
addition, chronic malnutrition affects children's neurological and physical
development. Although the Chinese authorities proudly claim that they have
significantly reduced Tibetan infant mortality rates, these rates are still much
higher than the average in China.

The essential findings of the Western Consortium for Public Health were
confirmed by a more recent study carried out by Dr. Nancy Harris -- an expert on
Tibet's health issues -- and researchers from the Public Health Institute in
Santa Cruz, California, the University of California at Berkeley and the Tibet
Medical Research Institute in Lhasa.

According to the study, conducted on 2,078 Tibetan children up to 7 years of
age, stunting was linked to malnutrition and was often accompanied by bone and
skin disorders, a lack of hair pigmentation, and other malnutrition-related
diseases. Sixty-seven percent of the children studied also had rickets, a bone
disease most frequently caused by vitamin D deficiency. The study was carried
out in children from 11 counties containing more than 50 diverse urban and
nonurban communities in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, or TAR. The
children's health situation is further complicated by poverty and a poorly
developed health infrastructure.

In addition to nutrition and health care disadvantages, the International
Committee of Lawyers for Tibet has announced that children as young as six years
old are being detained in difficult conditions without charge or access to their
families, and even being punished by beatings, electric shocks and other forms
of torture.

Education policies planned in Beijing fail to adequately fund schools and
provide qualified teachers for Tibetan children. At the same time, they suppress
the Tibetan language and engage in overt practices of discrimination. As of
1995, it was reported that 30 percent of children in the TAR had received no
education at all. In 1998, illiteracy in rural areas was reported to be as high
as 70 percent.

Greater attention should be given to children's health and nutritional status,
following guidelines already successfully used by Dr. Harris on a limited
population of Tibetan children: a rickets education and prevention program,
encouragement of the use of an indigenous high-protein root called "dorma,"
support for traditional Tibetan medicine, and a health care and delivery
program. These measures should be complemented by strengthening the
infrastructure and access of health services, as well as by policies aimed at
reducing poverty and illiteracy.

The children of Tibet, too long the victims of inadequate care and attention,
deserve no less.

Cesar Chelala, an international medical consultant based in New York, writes
extensively on foreign affairs, and on health and human rights issues. He is the
author of Children's Health in the Americas, a publication of the Pan American
Health Organization.
The Japan Times: July 28, 2001

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Malnutrition plagues Tibet's children (Japan Times)
  2. Occupation of Tibet and its aftermath (The Pioneer)

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