UNICEF works with communities to improve key family practices in Niger
GARIN BAWA, Niger, 24 January 2011 – In the courtyard of her family’s compound, Zuliah Baba, 32, goes through her nightly chores under a full moon. The familiar sounds of similar household routines echo through this rural village – chores that are being influenced by an innovative new UNICEF programme, Key Family Practices, which is having a dramatic impact on child health in Niger.
Before she serves dinner to her four oldest children and husband, Ms. Baba makes sure they all carefully washes their hands while she breastfeeds her 11-month-old son, Haruna. When it’s time to go to sleep, the children excitedly scurry to their bed mats, protected underneath mosquito nets.
The family has changed its behaviour because of weekly meetings where they receive information about how to protect themselves against disease.
The community information-sharing sessions are a key feature of the Key Family Practices Programme. The men of the village meet regularly with the chief and elders, while the women get together under the village meeting tree to decide whether to adopt the seven essential points that are at the heart of the initiative:
• Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a child’s life
The simple behaviour changes promoted by the Key Family Practices Programme can significantly reduce these deaths.
"It’s important that we have health services available and we extend them,” said UNICEF Representative in Niger Guido Cornale. “But there are many things that can be taken care of on the family level. The Key Family Practices can greatly improve the healthy development of children, their chance of survival. So these are things we can do on the family level.”
Communities help themselves
In this way, changes in individual and family practices are supported by social change – the adoption of new collective norms and practices.
“Since we introduced the Key Family Practices in my village, I’ve noticed a difference,” said the chief of Gidan Bawa village, Oumarou Kachallo. “It’s had an impact on the economy, because people are spending less on medicines. There’s also a social dimension, because people are helping each other and discussing these practices.”
Spreading the word
“When my wife tried exclusive breastfeeding, I noticed the advantages and differences with my other children,” he said. “We used to have to take to them to the clinic almost weekly, but with this one, he’s not been sick.”
Thanks to the increased use of mosquito nets, there also has been a dramatic reduction in deaths due to malaria, the number-one killer of children in Niger.
UNICEF is using a number of communication vehicles – including films, community theatre and radio – to spread the simple messages of the Key Family Practices Programme. The aim, over the next three years, is to introduce the programme to hundreds of villages across Niger, reaching the most vulnerable communities and empowering them to adopt new practices that will save and improve children’s lives.
By Bob Coen