Tackling malnutrition in Uganda with homegrown solutions
By Ijuka Agnes Barongo
A new initiative aims to promote better nutrition practices in Ugandan households.
KICUZI, Uganda, 17 May 2013 – Peter, Erik and Dalton Butetera are huddled in a corner of their hut while health worker Beatrice Asaba prepares millet porridge at their home in Ibanda District in southwestern Uganda. Despite their different ages – Peter is 4, Erik 3, and Dalton only 2 years old – the brothers are nearly the same size. All three children are malnourished, and their physical similarity is the result of stunting.
The Butetera family is one of many households being targeted by a community integrated programme intended to improve household nutrition practices. UNICEF Uganda’s Health, Nutrition and Food Security Assessment in Ibanda, Kabale, Kanungu and Pader Districts Report 2013 indicates that one-third (34.9 per cent) of children under 5 years in Ibanda District are stunted. The programme is funded by the European Union (EU) in partnership with UNICEF and USAID Uganda under the Office of the Prime Minister.
The right food
Ibanda receives rainfall throughout the year, and the vegetation is lush with a range of healthy growing crops such as bananas, coffee, papaya, pineapple, sweet potato, spinach, cabbage and pumpkin. Although many of these crops surround the Butetera home, the children have been raised on only a regular half-meal of plain bananas boiled in salt, with no added protein or vitamins from vegetables.
“Uganda still faces dramatic challenges, especially on the two MDGs of under-five mortality and maternal health. The under-five mortality must be addressed not only with food security, but also with the right food, and that is why the EU is engaging with the offices of UNICEF in this project,” said Ambassador Roberto Ridolfi, Head of the EU delegation in Uganda.
The primary goal of the programme is to ensure that nutrition standards are improved and maintained through activities such as demonstrations within households as well as during weekly immunization and antenatal health service days at Ibanda’s Kanywambogo Health Centre. A ‘Food Field Exhibition’ is also held every year, where traders display various foods grown in the district.
“Through these exhibitions, health workers are encouraged to invite members of households to attend and learn best feeding and nutrition practises that can be adopted at household level,” says Maimuna Kabatooro, USAID Community Connector Officer for Kicuzi sub-county.
Local health workers also identify vulnerable households such as the Butetera family and regularly check on them through home visits and food demonstrations.
In addition, each sub-county has a women’s community choir that uses music, dance and drama to address health issues.
“Every week the group goes out to the community and performs dances and drama to show families the importance of nutrition,” says Medius Kyarikunda, a health worker in Kicuzi sub-county. “We believe change can happen when we join hands as a community to combat the poor health of children in our communities.”
Ibanda District also boasts model households with healthy families, such as that of Samuel Bamwesige in Zone A village. A single father of five children ages 4 to 19, Mr. Bamwesige maintains a clean, organized and well-cultivated farm that feeds his children and provides surplus he can sell.
“After my wife and I separated, I had to ensure that my children would still access proper food, clothing, shelter, education and health care,” Mr. Bamwesigye says. “It has been a struggle, but I have managed to ensure that they remain healthy, go to school, participate in farming and take care of family livestock.”
The single father has two houses, two shops he rents out for income, a tidy kitchen, clean toilet facilities with a tap for hand-washing, a utensils drying rack and storage for firewood. He also keeps hens, pigs and goats that graze in his farm of cassava, sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkin, spinach and cabbage. He is highly respected by members of his community, who are learning from him what is required to have a healthy family.
Over time, the programme’s community-based approach to nutrition and livelihoods aims to make such model households the norm in Ibanda District and throughout Uganda.