|© UNICEF 2012/Niger/Tidey|
|Zouheira Issa (left) explains the importance of proper nutrition to a group of mothers in the village of Garin Goulbi, Niger.|
By Chris Tidey
GARIN GOULBI, Niger, 29 May 2012 – In Garin Goulbi, a small village more than 500 kilometres from Niger’s capital, women have taken the lead in protecting their families and community during the country’s dire food security and nutrition crisis, which has left more than six million people across Niger facing food shortages.
According to UN experts, successive droughts in 2005, 2010 and now 2012 have pushed families to the brink. UNICEF and the Government of Niger recognized that families needed skills or tools to make them more resilient to the recurring droughts and food insecurity.
In 2008, UNICEF began promoting key family practices (KFP) to improve child health, hygiene and nutrition. The behavioural interventions have the greatest impact on reducing mortality and morbidity among children under age 5, who are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Women took the lead in implementing the programme.
Women taking the lead
The programme focuses on the adoption of new norms and practices throughout some of the most disadvantaged regions, including densely populated Maradi and Zinder in southern Niger. Villages in these regions register the highest maternal and child mortality and malnutrition rates nationwide.
In Garin Goulbi, five women are leading the village KFP programme. Each week, they visit homes to teach families about seven key behaviours that reduce under-5 mortality and morbidity: exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; complementary feeding for children after six months; proper hand-washing techniques; treatment of diarrhoea; how to seek medical care; obtaining vaccinations; and using mosquito nets to prevent malaria.
“When I was trained by UNICEF, some years ago now, I gained much knowledge that I wanted to share with other mothers,” said Zouheira Issa, who conducted a group session about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. “That is why I do this. I have six children myself, so I know a thing or two from experience, and when I see a serious problem with the families I visit, I can identify it and get help.”
|© UNICEF 2012/Niger/Tidey|
|Nephisa Tasirou sits with her son Mahamadou, 18 months, during a UNICEF-supported session about key family practices in a village near Maradi, Niger.|
Learning vital health practices
In the face of this latest crisis, preventive interventions are being promoted to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition. UNICEF and partner NGOs are scaling up the programme to reach families nationwide. Currently, it is operational in six out of Niger’s seven regions.
“Through the program, we have learned many important lessons that are helping us, especially now when food is scarce,” said Nephisa Tasirou, a 23-year-old mother in the village of Tahoua. “My son has been exclusively breast fed, and you can see how strong and healthy he is.”
The programme’s ultimate goal is to reduce under-5 mortality by 30 per cent in the targeted communities. Monitoring by UNICEF and community workers has shown an increase in positive practices related to child health, nutrition and hygiene in the villages where the KFP programme has been implemented. For example, the number of mothers who exclusively breastfeed for the first six months increased from 9 per cent in 2008 to 27 per cent in 2010.
UNICEF requires approximately US$2 million to continue funding the KFP programme for the next two years.
In response to the current nutrition crisis, UNICEF is also expanding the capacity of therapeutic feeding centres to treatment of severe acute malnutrition, a deadly condition. In 44 hospitals around the country, UNICEF is also providing approximately 85 per cent of the supplies and equipment needed to treat children with severe acute malnutrition and medical complications. The organization is also increasing access to clean water and sanitation to prevent the spread of opportunistic diseases, and is providing assistance to displaced women and children.
The consolidated United Nations appeal launched by humanitarian actors in Niger – requesting US$451 million – is only 32 per cent funded. UNICEF and its partners call on the international community to intensify efforts on behalf of the country’s children.
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