High levels of stunting in Sierra Leone are denying many children are not getting the best start in life
In Sierra Leone, nearly half of a million of children under-five are stunted while 30,000 are suffering from malnutrition and are at immediate risk of death due to inadequate dietary intake and high disease burden affecting young children.
Sub-optimal infant and young child feeding practices are prevalent in the country with 70 per cent of young children given monotonous diets characterized by high consumption of starchy staples like rice and cassava. On average, young children are only fed food/meals from two out of the six food groups, and consumption of legumes, nuts, pulses, dairy products, fruits and vegetables is low. While food insecurity is considered as a major barrier to dietary diversity during the nine-month long rainy season, cultural beliefs, taboos, and practices limits provision and consumption of some nutritious foods which could have otherwise helped improved dietary intake of young children.
Furthermore, many children in Sierra Leone frequently suffer from highly preventable childhood illnesses such as malaria, acute respiratory illnesses (ARI), and diarrhoeal disease. As a result, many young children do not meet their nutrient requirements needed to fight infections and diseases, and at the same time, reach their maximum growth and development potential.
The Government of Sierra Leone identifies nutrition as a key development agenda as highlighted in the recently finalized Sierra Leone Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019—2023, and Multi-Sectoral Plan for the Reduction of Malnutrition in Sierra Leone of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement in the country.
UNICEF contribution to the solution
UNICEF will contribute to improving nutrition outcomes among young children in the country by improving the quality of critical nutrition services at the facility and community levels and enhancing integration of nutrition programmes to the overall health system to sustain efforts and maximize programme gains.
UNICEF is working with the Government and other partners to promote optimal infant and young child nutrition (IYCN) practices and the integrated management of acute malnutrition (IMAM).
UNICEF is also working to streamline and harmonize efforts to effectively and efficiently influence change in beliefs, knowledge and practices on IYCN by:
i) Developing a common nutrition social and behaviour change and communication (SBCC) strategy, framework and plan to guide communication-related activities based on the key findings from the currently on-going national qualitative research on maternal, infant and young child nutrition practices;
ii) Supporting the operationalization and scale up of the strategy and plan.
UNICEF is also focused on debunking nutritional taboos that prevent mothers and caregivers from breastfeeding their children and giving their children diverse foods/meals using innovative communication tools identified in the SBCC strategy and plan.