Simple but effective tools in saving lives of children

A community-based nutrition package saves lives

Monique Awad
nutrition
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020

10 February 2020

6 February 2020 , Daikundi, Afghanistan - In Daikundi, one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan located in the central region, community health workers visit families at home to educate mothers on infant and young child proper feeding practices.  These community health workers educate mothers on issues not only related to improved feeding of nutritious foods for children, using available and affordable resources, but also on food handling and hygiene.

“The home visits by community health workers enabled me to better feed my baby,” says Nasiba, 35. “This is my fifth child, and only this year, I was informed to offer my son Abdul Waris nothing but breastmilk for the first six months of his life.”

In Afghanistan, recent data shows that around two and a half million children under the age of five, and 485,000 pregnant and lactating women are affected by acute malnutrition annually.  The protracted conflict, poverty, cultural norms and more importantly lack of awareness among mothers and caregivers on how best to feed their infants and young children are the main reasons behind malnutrition.

“Abdul Waris has grown well,” says Nasiba looking at her baby.  “I breastfed him and I will continue to breastfeed him till he reaches two years old, while giving him additional food.”

According to Nasiba, two months ago, the community health worker who visited her at home, assessed her child for malnutrition and referred her baby to the nearest clinic for getting further nutrition services.

At the clinic, Sadiqa Ibrahimi, the trained health worker screens infants and children for undernutrition. She also teaches mothers and caregivers on the importance of breastfeeding and complementary feeding, as well as hygiene practices. 

“Two months ago, the community health worker referred Abdul Waris to this clinic, and he was found to be suffering from moderate acute malnutrition,” says Sadiqa.  “Now, his mother is bringing to the clinic for a follow-up visit.”

“I am so happy that my son Abdul Waris is stronger than two months ago,” says Nasiba with a smile.  “Thanks to the community health worker who visited me at home for teaching me what to feed my baby, and how to handle the food and ensure that it is clean.”

According to the health worker, Sadiqa,  Abdul Waris improved drastically. 

“Now, after two months, Abdul Waris is no longer malnourished,” says Sadiqa.  “This shows the importance of educating mothers at the community level on how to best feed their babies in preventing undernutrition.”

 

nutrition
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020
Nasiba is happy that her 11-month old baby Abdul Waris is healthy.

Undernutrition should not be undermined

In a context like Afghanistan, this community-based nutrition package is critical.  It protects infants and young children from undernutrition, especially its most severe form.  It focuses on communities, especially those hard-to-reach, educating mothers on proper feeding practices and hygiene as a preventive tool to protect children from undernutrition.

Thanks to the Governments of the Republic of Korea and Italy, the community-based nutrition programme is being implemented in seven provinces benefitting more than 385,000 most vulnerable children.

“This programme empowers mothers and caregivers with simple knowledge that helps them better feed their infants and young children at community level,” adds Anwari.  “Through this programme, we protect children from undernutrition, especially its most severe form.”

In Afghanistan, around 690,000 children are suffering from severe forms of malnutrition, which is a life threatening condition.  If left untreated, it can increase the risk of death.  Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are nine times more likely to die than their healthy peers.  More importantly, those who survive and are suffering from prolonged under-nutrition, often become locked in a cycle of recurring sickness and illness and stumbling growth. and development.

According to the World Bank, undernourished children are at risk of losing more than 10 percent of their lifetime earning potential.  This can be easily prevented through this community approach.

“All I want from this life is that my children grow up to be healthy and productive in this society,” ends Nasiba.