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Zimbabwe, 28 September 2017: Community-based nutrition programme saves lives

© UNICEF/Ahmed Khan 2017

By Ahmed Khan

It is mid-morning in Katana Village, Ward 2, Mudzi District, Mashonaland East Province in Zimbabwe. There is a slight breeze on this otherwise warm winter day. Nyaradzai Masimba aged 21, a mother of two children Pretty Bhurashu a girl aged 1yr 9 months and Brendon Bhurashu a boy aged 4 months old prepares traditional food for her family. This household is fortunate on this day. The children are healthy; the baby is feeding well; and the young mother has a smile on her face.

Sitting under the shade of a round hut Nyaradzai narrates her ordeal. “My problem started after getting pregnant whilst still breastfeeding my oldest child. My cultural belief says I cannot breastfeed my baby whilst pregnant with another.”

Nyaradzai is married to 27-year-old Tonderayi Bhurashu who is unemployed. She stays with her in-laws, in a tough and unforgiving environment with little or no other sources of income besides the small arid field that has been overworked over the years. Because of her unemployment status and generally limited means, Nyaradzai was unable to provide a well-balanced diet for her family. Thus, Pretty her daughter became malnourished.

“My daughter almost died, after stopping the breastfeeding. I could not afford to buy artificial milk for her. She would vomit after eating her meals and she lost weight drastically. The village health worker screened my child and recommended I take her to the Chingamuka clinic nearby. There she was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and put on ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).”

Following an El Nino-induced drought that affected large parts of Zimbabwe in 2016, the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF initiated a programme to screen all children under five years of age for malnutrition. The programme entails health workers visiting communities such as Nyaradzai’s and screening all children for malnutrition. Those found with severe acute malnutrition are immediately placed into a community-based treatment programme which involves treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). Children with acute malnutrition are referred to the health facility for treatment and possible admission.

“I thank God, for this miracle and I thank the village health worker for helping me get assistance and checking on us frequently. As you can see my child is healthy and I am now supplementing her diet with traditional foods.”

According to the project report (GIZ grant), 48,147 children (76 per cent of the target) have been screened in the 5 districts of Bulilima, Binga, Chirumanzu, Kariba and Mudzi, between September 2016 and May 2017. Within that period 1,411 cases (73 per cent of expected burden) have been treated for severe acute malnutrition and a further 3656 (58 per cent of expected caseload) were treated for moderate acute malnutrition.

With financial support from the Government of German (GIZ), UNICEF is assisting the Ministry of Health to implement a Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition programme designed to treat severely malnourished children and help their families to access nutrition related information. Dedicated village health workers and environmental health technicians are reaching out to every family, conducting active screening and making referrals and follow ups on children who have malnutrition.



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