Making good nutrition a reality for children

Reducing stunting in Malawi

Lulutani Tembo
Elizabeth breastfeeding her 8 month old daughter Annette
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Homeline Media
27 February 2020

Elizabeth Chirwa and her 8-month-old daughter Annette are among Malawi’s lucky ones.

The first-time mother attends a care group where she is taught how to feed her baby a nutritious diet and prevent the youngster from getting sick from waterborne disease.

“The care-group promoters visit our homes every other week,” says Chirwa. “I’ve learned a lot from them. They give us tips on child health and nutrition.”

But not every child in Malawi has the same good fortune. A survey conducted in 2016 found that 37 per cent of children in the country under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth.

Yet food is plentiful here. Lake Malawi is abundant with fish. In the lead-up to harvest, tall maize stalks cover the countryside and sweet potato and cassava are plentiful.

UNICEF chief of nutrition Sangita Jacob Duggal explains that malnutrition and stunting aren’t only caused by a lack of food. Poor sanitation and hygiene are also major causes of the illnesses.

A cheerful and healthy looking Annette at her home in Nkhatabay
UNICEF Malawi/2019/Homeline Media
A cheerful and healthy looking Annette at her home in Nkhatabay

“It’s important that communities, especially those in rural areas, receive the right support and education to make sure their families have a healthy diet and are free from disease,” says Duggal.

To combat stunting and malnutrition, Germany’s Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has been supporting a multi-year programme to improve malnutrition in six Malawian districts.

Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) is a major global push bringing together dozens of countries in an effort to put national policies in place and implement programmes with shared nutrition goals.

The support from BMZ has enabled UNICEF to train care groups to support communities in nutrition, health, sanitation and hygiene.

And the investment is paying off. Women and children targeted by SUN have experienced significant improvements in their nutritional status. Approximately 309,149 children and 403,476 women benefited from the programme in 2019.

“The SUN programme is crucial in fighting malnutrition and preventing stunting among children in Malawi,” adds Duggal. “BMZ’s support is going a long way to helping local children.”

Care-group promoter Ganizani Mhone says she encourages households to build robust toilets and wash their hands after they use them.

“Our aim is to prevent diseases that can affect our children,” Mhone explains. “Making sure the kids are healthy will also save families money that can be used for other needs.”

Mhone says she counsels pregnant women to attend antenatal clinics from the time they are three months pregnant. She also tells expecting mothers to eat a diverse diet to ensure their growing babies get all the nutrients they need.

Care-group promoters also teach households about the importance of growing their own fruits and vegetables.

Says Elizabeth Chirwa: “I have a backyard garden and I add vegetables to the porridge I prepare. I learned that for a child to be healthy, they should be fed good food.”

She adds that the support she’s received has been helpful to her family and their lives have changed for the better as a result.