Increased awareness for the prevention of malnutrition among children

Awareness and adoption of healthy feeding practices helps to prevent malnutrition among children in The Gambia

Jama Jack
Health worker providing nutrition education for women at a local clinic
UNICEF Gambia/2017/Jack
14 August 2018

Addressing malnutrition requires enhanced knowledge on good nutrition and care practices for parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers, focusing on both prevention and treatment of cases. The EU-funded Post-Crisis Response to Nutrition Insecurity Project is a continuation of UNICEF’s support to the Government of The Gambia on maternal and infant nutrition, as well as treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM). The interventions target the most vulnerable communities in North Bank, Lower River, Central River, and Upper Regions where malnutrition rates are higher than the national average.

Working in partnership with the National Nutrition Agency and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, UNICEF seeks to promote optimal Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) through capacity strengthening of health facility staff on the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). Since the start of the project, a total of 175 health facility staff which includes nurses, administrators, security, orderlies and drivers were trained on BFHI in Bansang and Basse hospitals.

The trainees received guidance on key clinical practices and critical management procedures, as well as the supportive role of health workers to mothers for continued breastfeeding and introduction of complementary foods after six months. With increased knowledge on the importance of breastmilk and the exclusive breastfeeding, the trainees have become very critical in eliminating the promotion and availability of breastmilk substitutes in their health facilities.  This training also served as an orientation for newly-graduated nurses, now working at the health facility, and providing care for mothers and babies.

Mother receiving nutrition education to prevent malnutrition.
UNICEF Gambia/2018/Noorani

However, this care extends beyond the health facilities, into the homes and communities where these mothers and their babies live. To ensure that all ground is covered, and no child is left behind, Village Support Groups (VSG) were also targeted for training on IYCF practices. A total of 775 representatives from VSGs were trained, with the expectation that each one will train at least six mothers/ caregivers, thereby reaching 31,000 beneficiaries. The VSGs provide a structure for community support to new mothers and caregivers, while creating an avenue for joint learning through traditional communication methods, cooking demonstrations, and messaging on health and hygiene. They also promote the use of locally-available foods with rich nutrient contents, for complementary feeding, following the six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

To reach a wider audience, and ensure continuity of messaging, television and radio spots were also developed and disseminated to the media, highlighting key messages on good and sustainable care practices.

Consequently, uptake and practice of this information will reduce childhood morbidity and mortality related to malnutrition, infectious diseases due to sanitation and unhygienic environment. With increased knowledge and optimal care, malnutrition can be prevented or rapidly managed, for every child.