I lastly took her to Bugisi dispensary where she was referred to Shinyanga referral hospital. I was not aware that she had severe acute malnutrition”, says Njile Chaba, a grandmother of Patricia Chaba who resides at Mwanono village in Shinyanga region.
Breast milk, apart from protecting babies from infections and allergies, provides ideal nutrition to meet the infant’s needs for growth and is efficiently needed for baby’s body system.
Njile is thankful to health practitioners at the regional hospital since her one year and seven months granddaughter has now improved with her weight increased to 7.4 kilogrammes from 6 kilogrammes when she was first admitted.
Health care service providers at the hospital have been capacitated to screen and treat children with malnutrition under the USAID’s Boresha Afya project which works to increase access to quality, comprehensive and integrated health care in collaboration with the government.
“Patricia is improving on daily basis, I am now considering proper feeding practices as well as giving her therapeutic food including peanuts and milk which are given freely by the hospital. I have also been educated on how to prepare balanced diet for children and making sure she is protected by warm gear,” explains Njile.
The 2015/2016 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) shows that the national malnutrition and stunting level is at 34 per cent while 2015 data from the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Center (TFNC)indicates that some 600,000 children under five years of age were estimated to be acutely malnourished of whom 100,000 were categorised as severe.
Nyachiro mujaya is the nurse in charge of children ward at the Shinyanga referral hospital, she said: “With the support from USAID Boresha Afya project we are now capable of screening children with malnutrition and providing them with treatment as per guidelines provided by the government through the health ministry. We are also supported through ready-to-eat nutritious food and milk that are given to children’s mothers and guardians at every visit”.
The USAID Boresha Afya project is implemented in western and Lake Zone regions by Jhpiego, Path International and EngenderHealth.
According to Mujaya the problem of malnutrition to under five children is still critical in Shinyanga due various reasons including poor breastfeeding during babies first six months and improper children diet caused by lack of knowledge. She said the education they are providing to mothers had helped to create awareness as many people are now taking their malnourished children to the facility.
“There is progress in reduction of malnourished children, the number of children screened with malnutrition has gone down compared to more than 30 children we were previously receiving every month”, she noted.
Shinyanga regional nutrition officer, Dennis Madeleke attributed the escalating malnutrition problem at the area included factors such as poor dietary , improper children caring capacity and inadequate access to basic services like health, education and safe and clean water. He said that inadequate access to safe water and sanitation and poor hygiene practices increased the burden of infectious diseases thus leading to malnutrition.
According to Madeleke some children are born with malnutrition due to nutrition unfriendly customs and traditions which restrict pregnant mothers from consuming some foods and drinks which are rich in vitamins. He mentioned some of the foods that pregnant mothers are prohibited to eat such eggs and gizzards that led into expectant mothers missing specific nutrients, resulting into lower body weight and unhealthier babies.
“There are some babies who get malnutrition due to poor dietary and breast feeding. Complimentary foods to children should be adequate, nutrients, safe and prepared from locally available foods stuff. “Children here are fed on type of dried food throughout the draught season…they rarely get vegetables and fruits”, said Madeleke insisting there are some recorded successes in the numbers of mothers seeking antenatal care and provision of micronutrient foods for babies.
He was optimistic that malnutrition cases amongst under five children will decrease further in future following interventions by the government and Jhpiego’s USAID Boresha Afya project which has so far capacitated 45 health providers from regional referral hospital, Kahama district hospital and health centres.
He said the trained health practitioners had extended the knowledge to community health workers in every village. He said with the community workers providing awareness education to villagers, more children have been identified and enrolled for treatment which includes provision of therapeutic food.
“Increased awareness on malnutrition among babies has resulted into the region providing treatment to more than 450 children from January to June this year”, he noted adding the interventions have also contributed to reduction of anemia in children from 71 per cent to 32 per cent, according recent research by the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC).
The Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS) 2015/2026 indicated that Shinyanga had a serious anemia problems whereas in every 100 children, 71 were anemic.
As part of efforts to reduce malnutrition among children in the country, the government through TFNC has developed the National Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan (NMNAP) 2016 – 2021 focusing in accelerating scaling up of high impact multi-sectoral nutrition sensitive interventions and creating an enabling environment for improved nutrition, to contribute to the building of a healthy and wealthy nation.
It has also prepared and distributed the Integrated Management Childhood Illness (IMCI) guidelines and manuals addressing various nutrition interventions.
USAID Boresha Afya regional project coordinator, Dr Charles Suka said the project focuses on maternal and new born health, family planning, malaria, children health and other cross cutting issues such as strengthening of health services, respective maternal care, nutrition and community interventions.
He mentioned lack of health education as one of the challenges they face since some parents opt to hide their malnourished children believing they have been bewitched.