Angola, 17 June 2013: In Angola, changing feeding practices key to preventing malnutrition
By Luca Solimeo
Community health workers in Angola address malnutrition by promoting better knowledge and better use of local food sources.
KUNHINGA, Angola, 17 June 2013 - Vitorino is a small-scale farmer in Bie, a province of central Angola where severe drought in 2012 reduced agricultural production by an estimated 400,000 tons. Vitorino is 30 years old and has four children.
Recently the two youngest children, 4 years and 1 year old, were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition by a community health activist (CHA). They are following treatment under a community-based approach, and if they keep to the regimen and treatment is successful, the children will recover in less than 10 weeks.
Under an integrated health and food security programme launched by the Government of Angola in November 2012, with support from UNICEF and NGOs World Vision, Africare and People In Need, more than 2,000 CHAs are operating in the four provinces most heavily affected by the 2012 drought.
Recognizing local food value
When he first approached Vitorino’s family for malnutrition screening, the CHA noticed the large crop of soybeans. Vitorino was able to produce more soya this season than last, but he and his wife never thought to use it to feed their children, because they only considered it food for animals.
“Last year I had three pigs, so I planted soya,” Vitorino says. “But this month all of them died, so I don’t know what to do with so much soya. That’s why I want to get rid of it.”
The CHA also saw that Vitorino’s wife, like many women in her community, sold vegetables at the local market such as lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, green beans – all fresh and apparently of good quality. But none were given to the couple’s children, who often ate funge, locally made corn porridge, and a few fruits when available. Vitorino’s wife believed the children did not need anything else, and she could not understand how they started suffering from malnutrition.
CHAs regularly visit remote areas to conduct health and nutrition screening of under-5 children. In addition, they counsel mothers on the importance of diet diversification to prevent acute malnutrition. Along with the structural and economic difficulties faced by hundreds of thousands of families in rural Angola, the lack of knowledge and education about good nutrition practices often leads to children becoming malnourished.
“Many mothers and fathers are not just poor – they also find it difficult to recognize the local food value for their children,” the CHA says. “They prefer to throw it out or to sell it, as in the case of the Vitorino’s family.”
Promoting good nutritional practices
"For a successful campaign against acute malnutrition, we promote the use of locally produced foods,” says Gloria Kodzwa, interim UNICEF Representative in Angola. “Drought emergency and reduced food production often requires short-term interventions to address a long-term systemic problem. We must therefore use the opportunity we have at hand to promote good nutritional practices at all times.”
Increased knowledge and better feeding practices at the household level will continue to play a critical role in improving child nutrition. The Government of Angola, local authorities, traditional leaders and religious organizations are supporting sensitization efforts through workshops at community level to encourage introduction of locally produced foods.
Yet even while community response makes progress in areas affected by the 2012 drought, parts of southern Angola are being threatened by a new nutrition and water shortage crisis this year. To mitigate the impact of drought and malnutrition, families will be supported through the promotion of positive alternative feeding practices.
According to John Yale, World Vision National Director in Angola, the approach has noticeable benefits. “Community-based treatment and counseling are significantly reducing suffering and the number of deaths amongst young children in Angola,” he says.
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