BALUKHALI, Bangladesh, December 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In the sweltering heat of the dusty Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh, seven-month-old Mahmoud Rohan is on fire.
"I'm worried about him," said his mother, Roshida Begum, 25, in the waiting room of a malnutrition screening center.
"Last night I had a fever but I could not get help, they told me to come here."
Along with approximately 625,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled Myanmar to go to camps in Bangladesh since the end of August, Begum is fighting for Feed yourself and your baby.
The exodus began when the coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks provoked a fierce military response, with people fleeing accusing the security forces of arson, murder and rape.
The top UN human rights official said on Tuesday that Myanmar's security forces could be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya.
Myanmar has rejected accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labeled Rohingya militants as terrorists.
Although they are now safe from the threat of violence, refugees in Bangladesh now face malnutrition on an "alarming" scale, aid agencies say.
Health workers suspect that little Mahmoud, who wears a large red sports shirt, has severe acute malnutrition, the most severe form of malnutrition. Everything he has had to eat in the camp, where his family has been for two months, is a few tablespoons per day of rice mixed with sugar, says his mother.
At home in Maungdaw Township in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, Begum, who can not suckle adequately, fed Mahmoud with rice water.
Now, when a health worker examines him, the circumference of his lanky arm indicates the severity of his condition. Around her, other mothers, some with black niqabs, sit on benches with their babies in the small center with bamboo walls.
Dressed in rags, Sadril Amin, aged eight, has brought his malnourished sister, Boila Amin, 16 months, for a checkup. His mother is sick and his father is in the market, the child said through a translator.
Almost a quarter of all Rohingya refugee children in Bangladeshi camps between six months and five years old are malnourished, according to an analysis conducted by UNICEF.
Worse yet, he found that about 7.5 percent of all children, around 17,000 young people, are affected by severe acute malnutrition.
Children account for about 40 percent of the influx of refugees, and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of starvation.
Compared to healthy young people, severely malnourished children under 5 are nine times more likely to die from common infections.
In addition to the visible effects on the body, such as muscle wasting, the condition leads to low immunity, which means that children become much more susceptible to other diseases. The result is a toxic combination of health problems that can be fatal.
"If a child is malnourished, he can easily suffer from diarrhea or pneumonia, and he should be referred to a hospital," said Charles Erik Haider, a physician with the International Organization for Migration, in a clinic adjacent to the center projection.
On the perilous trip to Bangladesh, most of the refugees survived with a daily meal or less, according to UNICEF. The stories of desperate people who eat vegetation and drink from puddles and streams abound.
"I had to drink water from a pool made by the monsoon rain," said Mohammad Hassim, 25, from his newly built cabin on the other side of the Balukhali camp.
He said he did not eat during the last eight days of his arduous trip to Bangladesh, which included almost three weeks hiding in the hills, and he fell ill.
In the camps, food aid is being distributed by the Bangladesh army and the World Food Program (families receive rice, lentils and oil every fortnight), but many children still struggle to eat properly.
Despite the dangers of malnutrition, many Rohingya mothers do not realize that the lack of nutritious food is the underlying health problem that causes other illnesses in their children, Haider said, at the camp clinic.
Often, parents will not realize that the child is malnourished until they see a doctor for another reason. Many only know that there is a problem when their babies' traditional bracelets begin to slip from their slender wrists.
"There is not much understanding of nutrition," Haider said. "We need to raise awareness about food, education is the key."
Meanwhile, baby Mahmoud's condition worries health workers, and they refer him to Haider. His mother takes the baby a short distance from the clinic through a bamboo bridge, and they introduce him inside.
"The child has a fever of 103 ° F (39.4 ° C)," Haider said. "It is very bad".
Make a diagnosis of pneumonia and prescribe antibiotics for Mahmoud, with instructions to return if there is no improvement. His mother simply nods and hits Mahmoud while he cries on his knee.
He is also given Plumpy Nut, an emergency therapeutic food made from peanut paste, to feed his son.
For him, the future is uncertain. "With God's help, he will improve," said his mother.
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