Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that occurs when a child's spine fails to develop fully in the womb so that a sac of fluid comes through an opening in the baby's back and damages the spinal cord.

It occurs during the first month of pregnancy and studies show that more than 100,000 new cases of Spina bifida occur annually in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Kenya, three babies out of 10,000 born alive are born with Spina bifida.

The condition is permanently disabling and a poor community attitude casts a dark shadow upon the lives of those living with it with some societies going as far as terming such children as 'useless'. This is mostly due to ignorance of the condition, where parents have no access to information on how to care for such children or do not know where such care facilities can be found.

Spina bifida poses nutritional risks to a child which, if not well taken care of, endanger the child's health and interfere with his or her quality of life.

The most common nutrition-related issues include obesity, constipation, pressure sores and osteoporosis, all brought about by limited movement, lower metabolic rate - or lower calorie burning rate, as well as lack of information on proper feeding.

A parent needs to give meals and snacks at set times, and introduce the child to healthier options for snacks as soon as they start to eat solid food.

This will help to avoid too snacking on high -alorie foods, which bring about unhealthy weight. Regular physical exercise will also help to burn calories, build lean muscle mass and jump start metabolism, all of which will help maintain a healthy weight.

To avoid constipation, give foods with fibre-like fruits and vegetables and whole meal starches. This will help to exercise intestine muscles and provide bulk in the diet, thus improving bowel movement.

Three to four servings of dairy every day will give enough calcium for osteoporosis prevention. Physical exercise will also be beneficial.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will give the body protective vitamins such as vitamins A and C that will help in wound prevention as well as wound healing.

Spina bifida is however, preventable and pregnant mothers are encouraged to take enough folic acid, B vitamins and iron. These nutrients decrease its incidence by 70 per cent.

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