17 May 2010

Malnutrition concerns in Tonga may be due to economic situation

7:45 pm on 17 May 2010

A paediatrician in Tonga says financial constraints could be pushing families to feed babies cheap milk substitutes that lead to malnutrition.

Protein malnutrition has contributed to the deaths of two babies and has led to several others being hospitalised in the past two months in Nuku'alofa.

Dr Siaosi 'Aho, the paediatrician in charge of the children's ward at Vaiola Hospital, says that's because some babies are being fed foods which lack protein, such as condensed or powdered milk.

He says its only speculation but the economic situation is likely to be deterring people from using formula which costs about a hundred Tongan dollars a month.

"If honesty was to be revealed I think these people would know that this is not something you feed your children with. So for them to resort to a can of sweetened condensed milk which is just over a couple of dollars suggests to me either they have limited resources or they've got a very upside-down priority."

Dr 'Aho says another factor in some cases is that babies are treated with alternative medicine before help is sought from health professionals.