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Steady strides in children’s health

PHWITIKO—We have to fight stunted growth

The night King Chiumia’s wife, Alice, delivered through Caesarean section remains one of the worst in his memory because of the trauma the family went through.

The baby was underweight and malnourished and this was another cause of worry for Chiumia who did not have sustainable means of giving the new member of his family a healthy life.

Their subsistence farming—largely reliant on agriculture—pushed the family on the verge of starvation every year, before relations came to their rescue.

“After my wife delivered the baby, she had complications and this made life more difficult for us. We were frequents at the hospital,” Chiumia, from Thuli Village, Traditional Authority Fukamalaza in Nkhata Bay, says.

At six months, the baby was listed to benefit from Micro-Nutrient Powder (MNP) commonly called Ndisakanizeni to improve the health of the child who is now two years old.

But there were others in Chiumia’s community who did not approve of the meal. Without any proof, they argued the powder would worsen the mother and the baby’s conditions.

“I was compelled to stop using the powder because of the backlash from the village. But after [a health surveillance assistant] convinced us about the benefits of MNP, we returned to it,” he says.

Maggie Kamanga is one of the promoters of good health in the lakeshore district who looks after over 240 households, assisting them with feeding their children nutritious food.

Kamanga concedes that it was not easy to convince families to start using Ndisakanizeni due to cultural beliefs.

Though the 2019/20 budget does not inspire much hope as far as money allocated to the fight against malnutrition is concerned, organisations promoting the wellness of children in the country are positive.

In the budget, primary child protection services allocation has declined by 94 percent in nominal terms from K842 million approved in the 2018/19 financial year to K42 million in the 2019/20 financial year.

Total visible nutrient budget has declined by 35 percent from K3.6 billion in 2018/19 to K2.3 billion in the current financial year with the allocation to the Department of Nutrition, HIV and Aids declining by 13 percent from K448 million to K387 million.

The government, with funding from donors such as the German Government, DfID, USAid and Unicef, is carrying out quality nutrition interventions to ensure that children under the age of five and adolescent girls receive lifesaving nutrition interventions aimed at dealing with malnutrition.

Unicef Communications Officer, Rebecca Phwitiko, urges breastfeeding mothers to supplement their baby feeding with the powder to ensure that malnutrition is eradicated.

“Unicef is supporting the Government of Malawi in its nutrition programme to ensure that children have the appropriate food and making sure that they grow healthily.

“One key initiative that we are supporting is the provision of micronutrient powder for children between six and 23 months. This is to make sure the children get the acceptable diet in terms of micronutrient content,” Phwitiko said.

Unicef is currently working in 14 districts in this initiative.

According to Phwitiko, the key thing is that mothers should be aware that when their babies are six months old, they should be able to provide them with complementary foods as breast-feeding alone is not enough.

“We have to fight stunted growth which has been one of the challenges affecting child growth, mainly in remote areas. So we also teach them how to prepare nutritious food from locally found materials,” Phwitiko said.

Chief Nutritionist in the Ministry of Health, Frank Msiska, says the programme is yielding positive results albeit stating that it has met challenges to do with misconceptions about the powder.

Only eight percent of children between six and 24 months are properly fed in the country according to a recent demographic survey by the Ministry of Health and Population.

Through the MNP and other initiatives, the government intends to reduce malnutrition in the country from 37 to around 20 percent by 2025.

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