KARACHI, Sept 4: A non-governmental organisation working for better child health has found that 61 per cent of the students of the schools in the city it has surveyed were addicted to sweet and scented betel nuts (chhalia), betel leaves, gutka, cigarettes and shisha.
A senior person heading the survey meant to find addicted school-goers, said the children, aged from four to 16, belonged to both low- and high-income group backgrounds, studying in both government and private schools. The addicts were prone to developing health complications involving gums, mouth, throat, lungs, liver, stomach and prostate.
According to preventive oncology experts, the chances of gutka (a mix of betel nuts, chewing tobacco and lime as the main ingredients) addiction leading to sub mucous fibrosis, a pre-cancerous condition, among schoolchildren are 400pc.
Describing chhalia and gutka as one of the major causes of mouth cancer and respiratory problems, Prof Nizamul Hasan, a senior paediatric surgeon, recalled that a seven-year-old girl, Momal, from Thatta was brought to the National Institute of Child Health, Karachi, in 2009, with a history that she had been chewing sweet supari since two years of age. She was already suffering from an advanced oral cancer, but her parents did not agree on the requisite cancer treatment, Prof Hasan said, adding that the girl died the same year.
Referring to the survey conducted by the Child Aid Association at the NICH as part of its cancer awareness programme, Prof Hasan, who is also a founding member and the president of the CAA, said the findings were alarming.
He said gutka and chhalia did not provide any nutrition to the consumers and marketing of such harmful products was purely a commercial exploitation of human instinct for pleasure and taste.
“At a time when the designated monitors and relevant laws and warnings are proving helpful against the sale of cigarettes, chhalia and gutka, we need to create more and more public awareness for the sake of good health of children as well as their parents,” he said, adding that parents seeing any abnormal oral development in their children should immediately contact physicians.
Endorsing a perception that betel nuts, colour and sweetener used in making sweet supari and gutka were below permissible quality, Dr Hasan said the two betel nut productions and chewing tobacco and cigarettes were all hazardous and had serious side effects on human health with prolonged use and there was a need for making concerted efforts towards the implementation and application of the relevant laws.
Sharing details of the survey, project officer Tazeen Yousufi said her team had visited 46 government and private schools in various areas, including Malir, Nazimabad, Saddar, Liqauatabad, the Defence Housing Authority, Muslimabad, Korangi, Landhi and Gulshan-i-Iqbal, till the end of June. Many others would be visited to create awareness of smoking- and gutka-caused ailments and discovery of addicted school-goers under the project sponsored by the Habib Bank Foundation.
In all, a message was conveyed through lectures and pamphlets to13,115 students, 93pc of whom revealed that they had habitually been consuming betel nuts, followed by 376 who used betel leaves, 101 using gutka, 55 using shisha and 23 cigarettes.
A majority of the students said they chewed betel nuts (areca catechu), which had been popular in the country for long, as it kept them moving.
In a private school in Nazimabad, almost half of the students were found addicts, of whom 46pc consumed betel nuts and 1.8pc chewed betel leaves with other ingredients.
The highest figure (91pc) of habitual-consumers of chhalia was recorded at a government girls school in Landhi, while 80pc of the students chewed betel nuts regularly at a school on Nishtar Road, followed by another school in Baladia Town where 72pc of the students used betel nuts. In a boys school, 92pc of the students chewed betel nuts.
In a DHA school, 53.8pc of the students were found addicted. About 46pc of them chewed betel nuts, 4.5 used betel leaves and 2.6pc smoked shisha. Joining Ms Yousafi, social welfare officer of the CAA Imran Khan said girl students had also admitted that they smoked shisha at least once a week.
According to Prof Nadeem Rizvi, researchers had already pointed out that water pipe, hukka or shisha smoking was six times more injurious to lungs than cigarette, but the masses were not aware of its toxic effects.