Through mother-support-groups, Aziza champions malnutrition prevention
Educates mothers on good feeding practices for healthier children
It is mid-morning and mothers with their babies covered with multi-colored sheets stroll into the UNICEF-supported Patient Helping Fund Integrated Nutrition Facility, located in Abushock internally displaced camp, North Darfur.
They are here to attend the mother-support-group session delivered by 50-year-old Aziza Abdulgadah.
Aziza or Mama Aziza as she is commonly referred to by the mothers is one of the beneficiaries of the UNICEF trainings on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) and is currently a ‘Mother Lead’ responsible for educating pregnant women, lactating mothers, and women of childbearing age on good feeding practices for their children in her community.
At the facility, Aziza has formed two mother-support groups that meet biweekly with about ten mothers in each sitting. She tailors her sessions on 14 key messages delivered using teaching guides with text and pictures and translated in Arabic for effective message uptake by the mothers since many are illiterate. Her sessions rotate around practices and behaviours mothers need to adopt during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from conception to the age of two years) for strong and healthy children. The practices are critical to preventing children from malnutrition.
Aziza is confident that malnutrition can be prevented and dreams of a community free from children with diseases related to poor feeding. She is aware and has seen firsthand the damage the deadly disease has on the little ones.
As she passionately delivers the sessions, Aziza uses her personal experience. As a young mother, she remembers feeding her first child with water mixed with sugar three days after delivery when she didn’t have sufficient breast milk. No wonder the child was very sickly. She confirms that at the time, she didn’t have the knowledge she currently has.
Today as a ‘mother lead’, Aziza is much more knowledgeable and a great advocate for proper feeding practices like exclusive breastfeeding, proper dietary practices, complementary feeding among others and their benefits to children.
The mother-support-group sessions are a UNICEF-supported initiative introduced at the community and facility level to prevent malnutrition, thanks to funding from the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). A total of 28 mother-support-groups have been created in Abushock Internally Displaced camp alone.
To address the increasing levels of UNICEF has intensified efforts towards prevention and early detection of malnutrition among children in communities and timely treatment to save lives.
Growth monitoring and nutrition screening is one of the topics Aziza speaks to when talking about malnutrition and its dangers. To deliver this topic, Aziza educates the mothers using a colour coded mid-upper-arm-circumference (MUAC) tape, before screening all the children present. She speaks to the three colours on the tape while emphasizing the meaning of each colour -red is danger (severe acute malnutrition), yellow is moderate acute malnutrition and green is healthy and safe. All sessions are delivered in local language.
When asked how the sessions have benefitted the children and mothers Aziza shares “Through these sessions mothers have learnt how to feed their children well, in order to protect them from becoming sick and thin. When children eat well, they grow strong and healthy.”
What keeps her motivated for the three years that she has led this activity is an old but relevant slogan that she shares with the mothers - Prevention is better than cure!
Over the years as she continues reaching mothers and their babies, Aziza has observed change amongst the mothers thanks to the mother-support-group sessions – “for instance mothers are embracing exclusive breastfeeding and no longer feed their babies with water during the first six months, a practice that was common, mothers are taking care of themselves and eating well during pregnancy, attending antenatal clinics and childcare and feeding has improved too.”
However, Aziza worries that the continued and prolonged dry spells, failed raining seasons, poor security, poor farm yields in her locality and poverty threaten to undo the gains they have registered so far. Families are struggling to obtain a variety of food for their children, let alone have one meal a day. However, to address this challenge, she educates mothers on the best food alternatives and mixtures to feed their children with the little they have. Food demonstrations – preparation and mixing of locally available foods are organized and have been incorporated as part of the mother-support-group sessions.
The day’s session is crowned with educative songs filled with key messages on good infant and young child feeding practices critical to saving children from falling sick, as mothers dance and celebrate healthy children. The mothers learn as they sing.
“UNICEF continues to rely on nutrition champions like Aziza who through their great work, we are not only preventing malnutrition through the support groups, we are also identifying those affected early and initiating them on treatment,” said Afaf Mohammed Briema, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Specialist.
At Patient Helping Fund Integrated Nutrition Facility mothers and caretakers can also access other nutrition services through the outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes for children with severe acute malnutrition without complication as well as treatment for the severely malnourished with complications at the stabilization centre and obtain key nutrition commodities such as ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) and OTPs drugs for malnourished children, vitamin A for their children U5 and iron foliate for pregnant/ lactating mothers.