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In Mali, information about breastfeeding is saving children's lives

© UNICEF Mali/2013/Nedeljkovic
Communication efforts by UNICEF partner ASDAP have brought about changes in the Sikasso region of Mali. Children are healthy and flourishing, thanks to exclusive breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding.

By Nena Nedeljkovic

A programme combats chronic malnutrition in Mali at the grassroots level.

SIKASSO, Mali, 8 April 2013 – Exclusive breastfeeding saves lives. Aminata Coulibaly, from the village of Kesso, Sikasso region, has seen its impact first-hand.

Acute malnutrition

Ms. Coulibaly lost her first two children to acute malnutrition. Lacking the knowledge of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for children up to 6 months of age, Aminata fed her first two children shea butter and warm water, a widely eaten local dish.

The mixture would bloat their little bellies without providing them with the nutrients that they required. Because of the heaviness of the mixture and difficulty of digestion for their tiny stomachs, the children would sleep long hours, giving Ms. Coulibaly the false impression that they were adequately fed.

Eventually, as a result of acute malnutrition, both children perished.

Support in the community

Today, Ms. Coulibaly’s third child, Chatta Dembelé, is a healthy, happy toddler, thanks to support that the Association of Support in the Development of Activities of Population (ASDAP), in partnership with UNICEF, has provided in her community.

ASDAP is a UNICEF partner NGO dedicated to teaching communities in Sikasso region about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and adequate complementary feeding, in addition to other essential family practices. UNICEF has been providing ASDAP with technical and financial assistance since 2008 to deliver messages to villages in the region.

ASDAP Coordinator Dr. Aïssata Traoré Diakité has been working with the village women. According to Dr. Diakité, the biggest change has been in the women’s self-esteem. Meeting every Tuesday at the ASDAP office in Koutiala, women learn, share their stories and experiences, sing and dance. Following the sessions, they share their newly acquired knowledge at home, with their husbands and families, thus spreading the messages within their communities.

© UNICEF Mali/2013/Nedeljkovic
Women attend a session at the ASDAP office in Koutiala. They meet every Tuesday to learn how to keep themselves and their families well. ASDAP also works with women displaced in Sikasso from regions of the country affected by conflict.

Support for displaced Malians

Since the beginning of the conflict in Mali, Sikasso has been welcoming internally displaced Malians from the north. ASDAP has worked with these families to provide them with key messages for behaviour change, as well.

Nana Assarkiné fled Douentza, Mopti region, in 2012. She arrived in Koutiala, where her mother, Lala Touré, a trained ASDAP communicator and musukoroba (community and family leader), suggested that she spend time with other women by attending ASDAP sessions.

Ms. Assarkiné says that ASDAP helped her better understand the importance of mosquito nets for malaria prevention. Her family’s health expenses have been reduced, as her five children are now falling ill less frequently, thanks to the nets.

These sessions have also provided Ms. Assarkiné with the psychological support that she needed following her departure from Douentza.

A need to scale up

Sikasso region is the breadbasket of Mali, supplying the country’s other regions with fruits, vegetables, meats and grains. Yet, Sikasso is the most greatly malnourished region in the country, with a chronic malnutrition rate of 35.4 per cent.

Part of the problem is that local producers sell nearly everything they grow, lacking an understanding of the importance of what they produce. As a result, they are left with little food for their children.

Cultural aspects also play a role in child malnutrition. Specifically, children are not truly seen as family members until they become productive and contribute to family income. Heads of households get the greatest share of food first, with a significant impact on children’s diets.

But, communication like ASDAP’s is bringing about necessary behaviour changes at the community level.

More work needs to be done to bring about other essential behaviour changes in the region. Looking ahead, more partnerships that support local health and social service authorities need to be established so that programmes can be scaled up.

For its part, UNICEF hopes to help local authorities in terms of improved organization and communication, and to support local NGOs further in bringing about behaviour change.



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