A call to qat chewing mothersQat causes infant disfigurement [Archives:2007/1106/Reportage]

November 26 2007

Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]

Most Yemeni women don't know the negative medical effects of chewing qat, especially for pregnant women who chew qat, where both mother and child face health problems. Numerous studies and campaigns call upon Yemeni society, especially women, to reduce the increasing phenomenon of female qat chewers.

Nouri Mohammed is the addicted qat chewing mother of an 8-month-old. Because she didn't stop chewing qat – even after her delivery, within the first months of giving birth, her baby refused to feed from her breast. Although she knows the importance of feeding a baby from natural milk, having heard it from both her mother and from older generations, she still wondered why her baby refused to drink her milk.

Numerous studies highlight the negative effects of mothers chewing qat upon their newborns. A study conducted in Ethiopia confirms that qat does affect breastfeeding infants and causes the reduction of born children weight.

Like Mohammed, most female Yemeni qat chewers don't know that they are endangering their babies by chewing qat, as many studies have found. Chewing qat changes the taste of the breast milk as a result of illegal pesticides used in qat cultivation, which transfer to the baby through the mother's milk.

A recent study at Aden University mentioned that more than 118 types of pesticides are used in qat cultivation, while statistics from the Ministry of Health, the Yemen Cancer Center and The Charity Organization state that qat pesticides cause approximately 70 percent of cancers in Yemen. Additionally, Ministry of Agriculture statistics point out that 77.7 percent of agricultural land was being used for qat in the 1990s, increasing annually at 7.8 percent.

Dr. Arwa Al-Darram, executive manager of the Yemeni organization for Women and Child Development SOUL, says that both chewing qat and smoking changes the flavor of mother's milk. She cited the results of a study conducted by Najat Hatim Khalil on a sample of 805 women in Sana'a, which found that 77.3 percent of such women chew qat.

In a step to educate Yemeni women about the problems of chewing qat – for both mother and child – the Yemeni organization for Women and Child Development, known as SOUL, in cooperation with the Qatar Charity Organization from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15 has arranged a month-long campaign against the dangers pregnant women pose to their unborn children by chewing qat.

Nashwan Al-Sameri, information specialist for the campaign, described the steps of the campaign and messages to be broadcast and distributed regarding the hazards of both chewing qat and smoking.

The campaign involves many activities, beginning with special program at four girls' schools in Sana'a, in addition to preparing radio and television programs for mass media, as well as distributing posters and brochures illustrating the dangers of qat and smoking to the lives of mothers and their babies.

Ibtisam Al-Jaadi, a media officer at SOUL, says her organization has arranged with four secondary girls' school administrations to select four active students to volunteer during the campaign. SOUL has given the schools all of the necessary posters and brochures to increase secondary schoolgirls' awareness of the dangers of chewing qat by forming clubs, which will present lectures during morning school broadcasts.

The campaign seeks to inform schoolchildren about the negative aspects of chewing qat by distributing free brochures and magazines informing girls in particular of the leaf's dangers and showing health statistics based on actual statistical information about the dangers accompanying qat.

The campaign also has provided volunteers with numerous studies and research proving the dangers of qat chewing for women in general and pregnant women in particular. Qat's negative impacts upon health are many, including high blood pressure and underweight children. Additionally, pregnant women who chew qat at higher risk of contracting cancer this from pesticide residue.

“Basically, this campaign, which was prepared for seven months, seeks to educate women about the health risks of chewing qat, particularly malnutrition and underweight births,” Al-Jaadi explains. She notes that the campaign is being initiated in Sana'a as a first step and “If it succeeds, we'll move on to other areas in Yemen.”

While surveying qat consumption habits in April and May 2006, the World Bank found that approximately 72 percent of Yemeni males chew qat, compared to 33 percent of females, and that most Yemenis are habitual users, with more than half of those who chew doing so daily.

The survey also found that some 80 percent of all male users and 70 percent of all female users report health disorders perceived to be related to qat consumption. Additionally, a quarter of all users experience chronic sleeplessness related to qat usage. Nearly all qat users self-treat these ailments with a range of traditional cures and modern medicines.

Over the years, numerous research has revealed qat's harmful effects and the dangers it causes. For example, studies show that chewing qat undoubtedly causes insomnia and weight loss and may cause mouth cancer. Doctors say it's even more dangerous for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children, if she chews qat or is near those who are smoking.

Thus, it's important for qat chewing mothers like Mohammed to think seriously about quitting qat chewing for the sake of their own health and that of their babies. They must know that doing so will protect their babies from future diseases.

This campaign is the second mutual cooperation project launched in Yemen and organized by SOUL and the Qatar Charitable Society after the “Child to Child” was the first cooperation project.