Doctors worried over Bangladeshi soil-eating

DHAKA (Reuters Life!) - Shamsunnahar Hena, a gynecologist in a Bangladesh hospital, was stunned when her pregnant patient confessed to having eaten half a kilogram of soil every day since she conceived.

A rising number of pregnant woman in Bangladesh’s tea-growing Sylhet region are eating charred soil, following a tradition that is meant to stimulate their appetite, which in turn will boost their health and that of their unborn child.

But physicians say the soil-eating trend is dangerous.

“Often we get pregnant women complaining of dysentery and some other problems (but) in most cases they are found guilty of eating soil,” Hena told Reuters over telephone from Bangladesh’s northeastern Sylhet city.

The habit has opened up a way of living for many poor and jobless people, who collect and burn pieces of mud and sell them at markets at up to 120 taka ($1.75) a kg.

“Normally they eat a piece or two in a day, but recently I got a patient who confessed to eating half a kilogram of soil every day during her pregnancy period,” said Hena, the chief gynecologist in Sylhet’s Osmani Medical College. “I was simply shocked.”

Vendors collect the soil from hills and scorch it before shaping it into pieces for sale, local residents said.

“Usually the husbands or father-in-laws of the expecting women buy the soil for their wives. The markets sit through the day, from dawn to dusk,” said Mainul Bulbul, a local journalist.

Officials are puzzled by how popular the habit has become, especially given that Bangladeshi women in general are increasingly aware of health issues, as more of them attend school and work outside their homes.

“But it could land them is serious problems, as medical science never supported that idea but instead says eating soil would reduce their hunger and sometimes causes infection,” Hena said.

Writing by Anis Ahmed; editing by Sophie Hardach