Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, health and development. UNICEF targets the critical first 1,000 days of a child's life to ensure good nutrition for every child in Rwanda.
Children who suffer from malnutrition can experience its effects for life. In the short term, malnutrition results in higher rates of mortality and decreased cognitive, motor and language development. Long-term consequences include an increase in non-communicable diseases, low school performance, and decreased work capacity.
Ultimately, this affects society as a whole, limiting the ability of younger generations to advance out of poverty and contribute to Rwanda’s development. Child mortality associated with malnutrition has already reduced Rwanda’s workforce by 9 per cent.
Rwanda has made significant progress in the fight against malnutrition. Between 2010 and 2015, rates of chronic malnutrition among children under 5 years – known as ‘stunting’ – decreased from 44 per cent to 38 per cent. However, the current rates are still too high.
Close to 800,000 Rwandan children under 5 are stunted.
Data shows that the older a child gets, the more likely they are to be stunted. Just 18 per cent of children between 6-8 months are stunted, but this peaks at a staggering 49 per cent for children aged 18-23 months.
Boys are more likely to be stunted than girls, and children are more likely to be stunted if they live in very poor households or in rural areas.
The high prevalence of stunting is a result of several factors:
- Inadequate diet,
- Repeated infection resulting in diarrhoea,
- Inadequate medical care,
- Inadequate brain stimulation.
The long-term consequences of stunting are irreversible and have serious consequences in adulthood.
This is why interventions which minimise the impact of malnutrition must begin from conception and continue until a child’s second birthday. These are the critical first 1,000 days of life.
There is still a lot to be done to ensure that all children have equal opportunities to grow up well-nourished, so they may thrive and reach their full developmental potential.
To address malnutrition in children, as well as in pregnant and lactating women, UNICEF helps strengthen government systems to better plan, budget for, implement and monitor nutrition interventions. These interventions include:
- Promoting better maternal, infant and young child nutrition practices
- Managing cases of severe acute malnutrition
- Promoting the use of micronutrient supplements
- Integrating nutrition into other programmes like early childhood development and health
UNICEF also supports positive behaviour change interventions, with activities including community growth monitoring and promotion sessions, nutritious food and cooking demonstrations, nutrition education, counselling on complementary feeding practices, and improving family and individual nutrition habits.