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Both treatment and education fight child malnutrition in Comoros

© UNICEF Comoros/2005/Lensink
An Anjouanese girl in one of the villages located near the capital, Domoni, where malnutrition rates are high.

By Marlies Lensink

ANJOUAN ISLAND, Comoros, 11 July 2006 – “Lack of knowledge is one of the most important reasons for malnutrition in Comoros,” says the head of the Domoni Therapeutic Nutrition Centre, Maissara Chaharmane.

According to a government study carried out four years ago, more than 42 per cent of Comorian children age five and under suffer from chronic malnutrition, and more than one out of every five children suffers from severe malnutrition.

“Almost every day, mothers come to see me, taking their weakened children with them, asking when we will open our doors,” says Marouvua, a local nurse. “Unfortunately, cases of death from malnutrition do occur regularly.”

Only a small percentage of mothers living on the islands breastfeed their babies. “Sometimes parents feed children who are not even six months old cooked cassava or bananas, without having any idea that their son or daughter is still far too young to digest that kind of food,” explains Ms. Chaharmane.

Best possible nutritional care

In May, the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and CAP, a local non-governmental organization, signed a cooperation agreement on community-based nutrition that includes strengthening an existing therapeutic feeding centre to care for severely malnourished children.

“We can’t wait for the centre to open,” adds the Director of CAP, Dr. Suleiman Aboubacar.

The expanded centre has a recently rehabilitated inpatient ward for severely undernourished children as well as an outpatient section for children discharged from hospital. Posters on adequate child nutrition cover the walls. While children are treated, their mothers will be educated on how to give them the best possible nutritional care at home.

© UNICEF Comoros/2006/Lensink
Street life in a town on the Comoros island of Anjouan. Although the infant mortality rate in Comoros has been falling in the last five years, the number of child deaths remains high, especially in rural areas.

Educating parents

Educating people to fight malnutrition is part of UNICEF’s Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) programme, an initiative designed to improve local health systems as well as community practices.

Strengthening family understanding of malnutrition to ensure child survival and development is a fundamental aspect of the initiative. In villages benefiting from the programme, community volunteers are trained to educate parents about the basic principles of child care through engaging theatrical performances and personal home visits.

IMCI combines better nutrition with vaccination and promotes the use of bed nets to protect children from malaria. A major aim of the programme is to help communities understand how to prevent child malnutrition in the first place, so that it will never need to be treated.

Fertile soil, malnourished children

Even though the infant mortality rate on the Comoros islands has been falling in the last five years, the number of child deaths remains high, especially in rural areas.

In Koni, a remote village in the northern mountains, children are malnourished despite abundant crops.

“When you look around, you notice that many children show signs of malnutrition,” says Dr. Suleiman. “The soil here is quite fertile. People live from agriculture, selling part of their crops in the capital’s market. Many of their children suffer from malnutrition because the parents don’t know that a variety of food is important.”

It is just the sort of knowledge that UNICEF and its partners hope to impart through the IMCI initiative.



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