Four year old Emily Jacob of Chakhaza village was not eating the right foods and it started to show. She had lost weight and was crying more than usual. Her mother took her to a nutrition screening conducted every month in the village. After an evaluation, the Health Surveillance Assistant found that the child was malnourished and referred Emily to the district hospital for further assessment and treatment.
During a recent visit to Dowa, German Ambassador to Malawi Jurgen Borsch was told how Emily was subsequently admitted to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit. She was in the hospital for a week, receiving therapeutic milk and medication. After she was discharged from the Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit, Emily was treated in the outpatient program until she recovered. Emily is now back in good health.
Ambassador Borsch was visiting some of UNICEF’s nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project sites ahead of the roll out of a 16 million euro German funded nutrition project in Dowa, Nkhatabay, and six other districts. The ambassador was accompanied by the UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig and Dowa District Commissioner Funnie Msimuko.
Care group members in action
While in the village, care group members gave the ambassador a nutritious food cooking lesson. Care group members are community educators who have been trained to encourage mothers and caregivers of children under five years to adopt appropriate infant and young child feeding behaviors. The care group members also encourage caregivers such as Emily’s mother to produce diversified foods from locally available products and livestock in order to meet the required consumption from the six Malawi food groups. Additionally, appropriate health and hygiene practices are promoted for disease prevention, which is critical for the prevention of stunting. At the core of these interventions, is women’s empowerment and increasing male participation in health and nutrition for the family.
Dowa has a stunting prevalence of 40.3 percent (according to a 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey), a reflection of the poor nutritional status of children under five years in the district. The German envoy cautioned that “we must never forget that there are individual lives behind these figures and that efforts must be made to reach every child in every village.”
The UNICEF Representative said these figures must inform action. Through its programmes, UNICEF is working to make good nutrition a reality for the children, families and communities that need it the most. UNICEF interventions also ensure that households have access to health and WASH facilities to reduce stunting.
In Mphonde village, the ambassador met Elizabeth Kabango, a Water Point Committee member. She told him how a UNICEF supported borehole has changed the lives of 89 households in the community.
“Before we got the borehole people constantly suffered from diarrhea, but now we are healthier,” she said. Elizabeth also explained that she and her fellow committee members were taught how to maintain the borehole and fix any minor problems without having to call a mechanic.
Later the German Ambassador and the UNICEF Representative were led to two households to see water and sanitation facilities in use. Mphonde village has been certified as Open Defecation Free community, as a result of UNICEF interventions with various partners including Malawian NGO United Purpose.
Ambassador Borsch also visited the village clinic which serves about 2,000 people, 275 of which are children under-five. At the clinic the Health Surveillance Assistants treats common childhood illnesses like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. They also screen for malnutrition and refer cases to the nearest hospital which is 15km away. Village clinics are ensuring that communities have access to health care in hard to reach areas of Dowa district.
The German funded project targets 2 million beneficiaries, including children under five and pregnant and lactating women in the eight districts. The project aims to improve the nutritional status of children aged 0 to 23 months, with a special focus on reducing stunting in the first 1,000 days of life.
“We must start early”, said the German Ambassador. “We must teach children to wash their hands with soap while they are still young. We must give them the right food from an early age. You can only change behavior if you start early.”