Media Centre

Press releases

Feature stories

Photo essays

Reporting guidelines

Media contact

 

Zimbabwe, 14 April 2016: UNICEF and the Government screens children for malnutrition

©UNICEF 2016/T.Mukwazhi
At the clinic or during community outreach programs, the circumference of all the children under five arms are measured – a common way to identify malnutrition – and those diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition are admitted at the local health facility.

By Richard Nyamanhindi

One and half year old Lumunhu Muchimba gives a loud cry as the village health worker weighs him on the scale. The village health worker quickly notes down the weight before handing the child over to his mother and examines his feet for swelling as a result of excess water retention. The swelling of feet is most prevalent in malnourished children. The news is not good. Lumunhu still weighs five kilograms, only two thirds the average weight of a normal toddler his age.

“My child has been sick for some time now but he is getting better,” says Manes Mutale, 34, a mother of six from Pashu Village, in Binga District, Matabeleland North Province of Zimbabwe. She has come for routine review with other mothers of malnourished children during an outreach screening and monitoring exercise at Mulande Primary School, about 150 kilometres from Binga Centre.

Manes says that when her child was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition in January of this year she was not surprised.

“We are facing a major food challenge here. The rains did not come on time and we are fast running out of food. Already we are having to make do with one meal a day and children are going to school without eating anything. The majority of the children you hear crying here it is because they are hungry,” Manes said.

Drought and hunger is widespread in the country and reports from communities and villages in Binga indicate an increasing food shortage and hunger problem, which is reducing the concentration levels in class and forcing many children to drop out of school.
 

Health screenings

In Zimbabwe, UNICEF working closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care is carrying out a mass screening exercise for malnutrition in children under 5 years of age, especially in the country's ten worst drought affected districts.

The exercise is in response to a recent Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) report, which revealed that 2.8 million people (30 per cent of the rural population) of which 1.4 million are children in Zimbabwe urgently need food assistance.

Since December 2015, 246 Village Health Workers have been trained in Binga district to conduct active screening for children and at the end of February a total of 18,466 children were screened.

At the clinic or during community outreach programs, the circumference of all the children under five arms are measured – a common way to identify malnutrition – and those diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition are admitted at the local health facility. The children are given medication, and administered a highly-nutritious supplement called Plumpy nut to nurse them back to health.

Lumunhu’s mother explains that this year’s drought across the country led to his son’s condition.

“When we have a good harvest, we eat three times a day,” Manes says. “Before last year’s harvest, we had more than 20 goats, but now, only five goats are left.”
 

Consequences of a poor harvest

In previous years, Manes’s family has typically gotten a harvest that fills up 10 to 20 donkey carts. They grow maize, sorghum, and groundnuts, and the harvest is enough to feed the family for the whole year.

But this season was different. The severe drought left the family with only one donkey cart full of millet and about half a donkey cart of sorghum. The groundnuts and maize crops were a total failure.

For Manes and her family to survive, they had to sell their animals and buy food. The adults are eating only once a day now, and the children sometimes eat twice a day. Both are eating smaller amounts.

“The maize we buy in the market is not very nutritious because we get hungry very quickly,” Manes says, “but we have no choice and the price is very expensive now.”
 

A system for battling malnutrition

Thokozile Ncube, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, says health centers in Matabeleland Region are now better equipped to detect early cases of malnutrition. Previously, parents would have to wait until the child was extremely malnourished with complications and then visit the clinic.

Now, Thokozile says, UNICEF working closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care have trained health volunteers in villages to do proactive malnutrition screening once a month, which involves measuring the bicep to determine the health status of the child according to a colour-coded diagram. Malnourished children are referred to the community health center instantly.

A health volunteer covers 35 to 50 households in a village. The health worker also advises on proper feeding methods after having been trained on Infant and Young Child Feeding.
 

Recovery – but risk remains

Lumunhu’s life was saved when he started the outpatient therapy program and began eating Plumpy’nut every day, and he has gained some weight.

The severe drought has resulted in the worst malnutrition rates in the past 15 years, as nearly 33,000 children are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

To help address the crisis, UNICEF working closely with the Government of Zimbabwe and other UN agencies is planning to serve acutely malnourished children up to age 5 in the ten most affected districts including Binga where Lumunhu lives. Children in this age group are most vulnerable to malnutrition – and those who lack vital nutrition can be subject to permanent physical and mental stunting.

“I believe that during this difficult time that Zimbabwe is going through, this program will certainly save children’s lives,” says Thokozile.

 

 
Search:

 Email this article

unite for children