TK Letchumy


Your little boy or girl seems to be a happy child. He or she is healthy, growing well and doing all the right things children usually do. So, you take a back seat and enjoy watching them grow at their own pace.

But what if your child is not growing at the rate he or she should be for his or her age?

A Wake Up Call

The Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) is becoming increasingly concerned that many Malaysian children, from all family backgrounds, are experiencing growth problems.

MPA President, Associate Prof Dr. Muhammad Yazid Jalaludin said there are some sobering facts about children under five-years-old. The data from the National Health and Morbidity Survey should serve as a wake up call for parents.

“The prevalence of stunting (low height-for-age) increased from 17 per cent in 2006 to 20.7 per cent in 2016. That’s about two in 10 children. Meanwhile, underweight children increased from 12.9 per cent in 2006 to 13.7 per cent in 2016,” Dr. Muhammad said.

Kids from all backgrounds are affected

Such growth problems can develop in poor as well as affluent families. Unfortunately, parents often miss the signs of sluggish growth. They realise only later that their children have failed to achieve their potential. “They may have also become at risk of associated health, developmental and psycho-social issues,” he said.

According to Dr. Muhammad, many factors contribute to growth problems. Among the more prominent factors are children with feeding difficulties and inadequate nutrition (due to poor diet quality). Frequent illness at a young age, underlying chronic disease and certain developmental disorders are also contributing factors.

“Without intervention, these children risk developing long-term health, cognitive and psycho-social issues,” he said.

Doctors to the rescue

Keeping all these factors in mind, the MPA introduced its first concerted childhood growth screening and counselling campaign. They called it the IMFeD Malaysia – ‘Get Growth On Track’ Campaign, in collaboration with Abbott Malaysia.

Through the programme, paediatricians across the nation will evaluate children’s growth by examining their weight and height. This will then be compared to a growth chart.

IMFeD Malaysia chairman Professor Dr Lee Way Seah said the next five years (2018 – 2023) will see the scope expand to include screening and intervention for feeding and nutrition issues.

This is a timely development in light of data that has revealed an alarming prevalence of poor growth in Malaysia.

“It is an alarming situation but the MPA hopes to make a difference.,” said Prof. Lee. Currently, it has deployed the IMFeD expert panel to train over 150 paediatricians all over the country to detect and manage growth problems.

“The expert panel has also produced educational materials containing vital information and tips for parents,” he said.

Parents, early intervention matters 

Get professional advice so your child can feed well and grow well.

Prof. Lee said parents who are concerned about their children’s growth rate or who want to learn more about this programme should take advantage of it.

Parents can talk to the doctors from participating paediatric clinics about their children’s growth. The doctors would be able to investigate the reasons behind a child’s sub-optimal growth. They can then offer strategies and methods to boost the child’s growth.

If the child has inadequate nutritional intake and where appropriate, the doctor may recommend a complete nutritional supplement. This will help the child catch up and stay on course for optimal growth. There is a limited window of time to correct poor growth and get children back on their potential growth trajectory.

“It is very important that everything is done to help the child catch up to their optimal growth as soon as possible,” said Prof. Lee.

It is also important to continue seeing your doctor regularly to monitor the child’s growth. The doctor would be able to plot the child’s weight and height on the growth chart. Then they will advise parents accordingly if they notice a lag or decline in the child’s growth.

Parents who wish to find out more about the ‘Get Growth On Track’ campaign or locate a paediatrician may contact the IMFeD Malaysia programme secretariat at [email protected]. Telephone: 012-284 1628 or 012-772 1628.

Ng and Shaelyn. Photo: Curious Child Center

Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something. Children are naturally curious and curiosity is the fuel that drives their learning.

With this in mind, former Miss Universe Malaysia, Carey Ng founded the Curious Child Center.

The childhood education centre uses the Reggio Emilia approach which provides enriching programmes for curious children.

It also aims to support parents wanting a good work-family balance.

Therefore, Ng chose Common Ground in Citta Mall, one of the fastest growing co-working space providers in Malaysia, as the location for her centre.

She said she wanted to support a community in which parents can achieve their goals while someone trusted took care of their children in an enriching way.

The environment is the Third Teacher

The centre has a vibrant interior which is specially curated for developing children’s creativity and encouraging curiosity.

There is a junior theatre for budding young artists which can also be utilised for story telling sessions.

A ball pit and sand pit provides space for sensory play  – a type of play that encourages mindfulness, relaxation and learning about their world.

Additionally, a music wall made up of pot and pans and tupperwares allows children to explore sound and music.

Finally, there is also a study area for learning and colouring activities.

Ng, who is mum to 1-year-old daughter Shaelyn Rey, says: “My focus is to create stimulating programmes for them because it is important for children to find their own tools and explore the environment around them before they reach full problem-solving potential.”

The Reggio Emilia Approach

Sensory play encourages mindfulness and relaxation among others

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education.

Teaching is student centred and children are seen as strong, capable and resilient.

It is  based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community and emphasises exploration and discovery through a self-guided curriculum.

“Curious Child Centre believes in nurturing the biggest asset that is innate in the child, their curiousity! It is a language that is often lost when we are moulded over time. We believe strongly in the Reggio approach and how it equips children for school and life,” said Ng.

Photo: Curious Child Center

The programme

Curious Child Centre caters for babies as young as six-months-old up to children  six-years of age.

They have qualified teachers and a head nurse to care for the children.

“We create a home-like environment and hope to bring a safe amount of exposure to the kids in preparation for the real world. Children need an honest, fun, happy and resourceful environment to maximise their potential and learning in the long term,” Ng explained.

Among the tailor-made programmes are:

  • Baby Explorer: a sensory exploration and parent-baby bonding programme that stimulates the baby’s development;
  • Language Class:  a fun learning programme that includes bi-weekly Mandarin classes;
  • Little Chef: a programme that teaches about nutrition, food science and preparing a simple meal; and
  • Little Scientist: a programme that helps children discover science through DIY projects and exploring the natural surroundings.

Here, children will learn language and literacy, Math, art and craft, speech and drama, physical movement, music and movement, natural science, imaginative play and more.

Photo: Curious Child Center

The small teacher-to-child ratio classrooms provide ample opportunity for child-led investigative learning and project based approaches. The emphasis therefore is always on exploring and creating.

“We also have occasional workshops such as kids yoga and hip hop dance. My hope is to see both children and parents reap from our services,” Ng said.

Curious to know more? Visit the centre at Jalan PJU 1a/48, Pusat Perdagangan Dana 1, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia or call 0167513329 for more information.  Further details on their site here.

In recent times, the Hand Foot Mouth Disease (HMFD) has been raising concern throughout the country, with increasing number of cases reported every day.

The Health Ministry has confirmed that from January to August 3rd, a total of 43,250 HMFD cases have been detected. It said however, that there had been a decline since the the beginning of August nationwide. There had been previously been an average of 73 cases weekly.

Some schools in several states like Penang and Sabah have been temporarily closed due to the outbreak and the ministry has cautioned schools that stay open to maintain cleanliness to avoid the disease from spreading further.

The ministry has even directed teachers and operators of kindergartens, nurseries and pre-schools to screen children in its efforts to contain the spread of HMFD.

This flurry of activities surrounding the disease, further fueled by recent reports that trolleys and toys at shopping malls have been identified as among the main causes of the spread of HFMD, has raised alarm among parents.

Not Just Annoying, but Dangerous

This alarm turned to real fear as the country saw the first HFMD-related death.

A 17-month-old boy who was admitted to a private hospital in Bayan Lepas, Penang on Jun 3 after experiencing flu, breathing difficulty and mouth ulcers, died in Penang on Jun 6 after his condition worsened.

On July 21, another toddler from Kampung Pangtray, Daro, Mukah in Sarawak, died, believed to be due to HFMD.

Malaysian parents may not be relatively familiar with the disease, and are trying to protect their children from the disease as much as possible.

However, the Health Ministry has released guidelines on the disease for parents and health practitioners, so they can understand the disease better and prepare for any eventualities well.

Consultant Paediatrician and Exco Member of the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, shares some information and pointers on the disease with makchic.

1. What is HFMD?

HFMD is a typically benign but infectious disease caused by a virus. A number of viruses in the Coxsackie A & B and Enterovirus groups cause HFMD.

Enterovirus 71 has been associated with outbreaks of the disease that can cause neurological or brain involvement. However, Coxsackie viruses usually causes fever, malaise, rash, and small blisters that ulcerate and can also rarely cause inflammation of the heart.

2. How does the disease spread?

HFMD is moderately contagious. It spreads by direct contact with secretions from patients. Secretions could be saliva, secretions from skin vesicles, nasal discharge or even faeces and urine.
Close exposures to patients who cough or sneeze will help spread the disease. It can also be transmitted through things that have been touched or handled by patients.

A person is most contagious during the first week of the illness.

3. Who can get the disease?

Anybody who had been in contact with a patient or with belongings contaminated by patients can get it. This applies to both children and adults.

4. What are the symptoms of HFMD?

Symptoms include initial fever or sore throat and refusal to eat. Typical red raised rashes with fluid (vesicles) on hands, feet and/or buttocks. The rashes can also spread to other areas and can cover a greater part of the skin. Ulcers in the mouth will be noticed when the patient refuses to eat or drink.

5. Can the disease be prevented and treated?

There is no vaccine available for the disease. The only way to prevent the disease is to avoid contact with infected patients. Those who are infected can take medicine for fever or pain and must keep themselves rested and hydrated.

6. How can it be fatal?

Although the great majority of cases subside with symptomatic treatment, death can occur if the virus, especially the Enterovirus 71, attacks the brain or heart. Death is caused by inflammation of these organs.

7. Why there is a sudden surge in the disease in Malaysia?

There has always been a low baseline number of cases occurring throughout the year. However, there are certain peaks at certain times and the circulating viruses will also differ with time of the outbreak. Having said so, there is no particular reason why there is a sudden surge of cases of HFMD in parts of the country.

8. How can we protect ourselves?

Avoid close physical contact with those infected with HFMD. Do not share food or cutlery with others. Avoid going to places where we know there are HFMD patients.

Practise healthy lifestyles by eating nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains to improve your immunity.

The CDC also recommends the following preventitive steps to reduce risk of infection:

Wash your hands. Wash often and carefully, especially after using the bathroom, preparing food or drinks, and changing diapers. (And teach your children this too!)

Avoid close contact with infected people. Avoid hugging, kissing, or sharing cups or utensils.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Wash surfaces with hot, soapy water, apply a solution made by adding 2 tablespoons of bleach to 4 cups of water, then rinse and dry.