Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams Save Lives in Remote Drought-affected Areas

By Rebecca Beauregard

GASHAMO, SOMALI, 15 February 2017 – Under the shade of a tree and settled on plastic mats, the mobile health and nutrition team (MHNT) is in full operation. An array of bright coloured fabric represents the crowd of mothers and children gathered around them, all in varying stages of screening, vaccinations, treatment or referral. In the rural Somali region, Gashamo woreda (district), 63 km off the paved road, the MHNT has been operating as a static clinic for the past two months as part of the response to the Horn of Africa drought caused by the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).

MHNT in Somali drought 2017
The MHNT in full operation with MHNT team leader Mohammed Miyir at its centre in white. ©UNICEF/2017/Tesfaye

Facing food and grazing shortages and in need of water, drought-affected pastoralist families and their livestock began traveling long distances in search of water. As one of the most vulnerable communities across the country, unique interventions are required to provide them a safety net in times of emergency.

The Government of Ethiopia (GoE) has provided a swift response by setting up five temporary sites in Gashamo woreda, which offer health and nutrition services as well as food and water. This arrangement is crucial and specific to pastoralist communities, where families are scattered across hundreds of kilometres of harsh semi-arid desert.

28-year-old Mohammed, a senior clinical nurse by training, works alongside two nurses who treat and manage cases, in addition to two health extension workers (HEWs) who screen patients and conduct community health education. Mohammed and his team were assigned to this hotspot priority one site by the Somali Regional Health Bureau (RHB), following a recent updating of hotspot woredas, which are most affected by malnutrition according to the latest meher seasonal assessment.

“My family is 200 km away and I am not sure when I will visit them. Probably when the drought is over,” says Mohammed. “But our work here is very important, there are thousands of people who otherwise would not have access to any health services. Especially during a severe drought, our services save lives.” He explains further that while the Ethiopian health system is highly developed, utilizing catchment areas for a tiered health facility structure is not feasible in pastoralist communities.

“Pastoralists are always on the move in order to provide grazing and water for their livestock, so expanding health facilities in these remote areas does not add value. Right now, there are over two thousand families in this location, so why not set up a permanent health post to serve them? Because perhaps in one or three months, there will be 20 families here, or none. Across the region, there are remote areas where people come and go, so the normal health system does not serve its purpose [in this context].”

MHNT in Somali drought 2017
Mohammed, 28-years-old, explains the unique pastoralist context at Al Bahi temporary site where over 2,000 households have gathered. ©UNICEF/2017/Tesfaye

This is the reason MHNTs were created and why they have helped improve the health and nutrition situation of pastoralist families for the past decade. From regular risk assessments and categorization of vulnerable woredas by the Ministry of Health and partners, including UNICEF, MHNTs are deployed for a minimum of three months, depending on the emergency situation and needs. With the onset of a sudden disease outbreaks or other emergencies, the MHNT will temporary relocate to the affected area to provide initial rapid response and then return to their assigned woreda.

The MHNTs work six days per week, traveling from location to location and setting up mobile clinics along the way. They make contacts with social mobilisers, volunteers from the community, to ensure everyone knows the day and place where the MHNT will be. The social mobilisers know their community well, even those families that are spread out across a vast terrain, and they guarantee everyone receives the information. Every time, a crowd of mostly women and children are gathered, anticipating the needed treatment and care.

The MHNTs conduct screening for malnutrition, provide routine immunizations and basic healthcare treatment, ante-natal care and emergency delivery services, common illness management, health education and promotion, as well as refer patients to higher levels of care as and distributing household water purification supplies as necessary. When the latter happens, they often utilize their vehicles to bring patients to the nearest health facility, as it would be near impossible for timely care otherwise.

UNICEF supports the GoE’s MHNT programme with the generous effort from donors, through vehicle provision, transportation allowances, emergency supplies and technical guidance. There are 49 MHNTs currently operating in Somali and Afar regions, moving around their respective regions according to the identified need.

Our visit is cut short as the team has just identified two children who are not responding to malnutrition treatment – as per the protocol, severe acute malnutrition (SAM) cases should return to the MHNT on a weekly basis to record progress or be referred to higher levels of care. These cases have been escalated to SAM with medical complications and the mothers are encouraged to gather their belongings and take the MHNT car to the nearest stabilisation centre about 30 km away. “Working in a static clinic may be nice,” says Mohammed, who has been working on the MHNT for nearly seven years, “and over time, as Somali region becomes more developed, the health system may be able to cover all areas. But until then, I know there is a great need and I am proud to be working on this team.”

Reclaiming Young Lives in the El-Nino Affected South

By Bethlehem Kiros

SHEBEDINO WOREDA, SOUTHERN NATIONS, NATIONALITIES AND PEOPLE’S REGION (SNNPR), November 2016 – Looking drowsy and barely active for a two-and-a-half –year-old, Maritu Sultan is sitting on a hospital bed next to her father, Sultan Lentata. Two days ago she was admitted to the Shebedino Hospital Stabilization Centre (SC) due to oedema caused by severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Sultan rushed his daughter to the health post in his kebele (sub-district) when her feet and facial swelling and vomiting became worse. The health extension workers (HEWs) at the health post referred his daughter to the hospital as she needed immediate attention. Maritu had received treatment for SAM in the Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Programme (OTP) at the health post in the past and recovered well, however she relapsed after a few months. Sultan admits he knows the reason for it,

“The HEWs instructed us on how to feed her after she was discharged but we did not have the means to give her what she needed,” he says.  Referring to himself as a poor farmer, he says the recent drought brought calamity on his household. “To begin with, I do not have much land and the corn I planted was destroyed by the flood and hail that came after the drought. So there was not much to eat at home,” he elaborates.

Two and a half years old Maritu Sultan is admitted at the stabilization center in Shebedino hospital to receive treatment for sever acute malnutrition and Edema.
Maritu Sultan, two-and-a-half-years-old, and her father Sultan Lentata in Shebedino Hospital Stabilization Centre for severely malnourished children. Sultan says his daughter became ill due to shortage of food. “The drought decreased our yield and flood and hail destroyed what I planted so there wasn’t enough food for the children at home.” ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Meklit Mersha

The SNNPR is among the six regions in Ethiopia that have been particularly affected by the recent El Niño-caused drought and flooding, with 71 out of 137 woredas (districts) in the region classified as priority one woredas, requiring urgent humanitarian response. Consequently, UNICEF Ethiopia has continued its support to the Government of Ethiopia for the strengthening of Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), a programme that offers a package of services to tackle malnutrition.

Through the provision of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) at health posts and therapeutic milks and essential drugs at the SCs, a high number of SAM cases are being treated in the region.

Shebedino hospital, where Maritu is being treated, is among the 286 health centres and hospitals that have SCs for in-patient care in the region. According to Zerihun Asres, a stabilization nurse in the hospital, the number of SAM cases referred to them is declining, as the majority of cases are treated as outpatient at health centres and health posts.

Though it has only been a couple of days, Sultan is pleased with the progress his daughter is showing. “She can now take the milk they give her without throwing up,” he says. “I do not want any of my children to go through this again. Once she is discharged from here, I have to do my best to provide for her so that she can grow healthy.”

Tigist Angata is another parent grateful for the SAM treatment her firstborn son, Wondimu Wotei received. “I had almost given up because he was very small and I did not have enough milk to nurse him,” she recounts.  At six months old, the HEWs in Telemo Kentise health post found in her kebele referred him to the SC in Shebedino hospital. He was only 3.5 kg at the time, approximately the size of a healthy newborn. Upon his return from the SC, he ate RUTF for a month and was discharged when he reached 4.4 kg. “He ate so well, which made me realize how much my son was deprived of food,” says Tigist. She adds that she is trying her best to prepare food for him at home, based on the lesson she received from the HEWs. However, eight-month-old Wondimu has not gained any weight since he was discharged from OTP. Her family’s livelihood is based on what her husband earns working on other farms. Due to the drought, he has not been able to work much since last year, which has caused a serious food shortage in their home.

Tigist Anagata with her first born, 7-months-old Wondimu Wotei.
Tigist Angata with her firstborn, eight-month-old Wondimu Wotei, who was treated for SAM at the Telemo health centre Stabilization Centre as an in-patient and later at the Telemo health post as an outpatient. He was discharged from treatment after he gained one kg. UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Meklit

Though poverty seems to have a firm hold in her home, Tigist feels like the situation is better than what it used to be when her son was sick. “I was very distressed at the time because I was sick and he did not seem like he had much hope. But the therapeutic milk and food have brought him back to life and I am very happy and thankful for that,” she says. Her hope is for Wondimu to grow strong, become educated and find a better life than her and her husband’s.

Through the contribution of many donors, including the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO), UNICEF supported the Government in treating 272,165 SAM cases across the country from January to October 2016. Of those treated, 21,671 children were admitted for treatment in SCs while 250,494 received SAM treatment in the OTP. In SNNPR alone, CMAM services are available in all 106 woredas.

New National Nutrition Programme II envisions an Ethiopia free of malnutrition

By Fanna Minwuyelet and Eric-Alain Ategbo

Last week, Ethiopia launched the second National Nutrition Programme (NNP) II focusing on the first 1,000 days of life to eradicate chronic malnutrition by 2030.  State Minister of Health and Chairperson of the National Nutrition Coordination Body (NNCB), Dr Kebede Worku, recognized 13 ministries[1] that represent the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to support the achievement of the targets laid out in the National Nutrition Programme II.

The ministries have recognised that high malnutrition rate in Ethiopia is unacceptable and have stressed the need for strengthened collaboration to reduce the impact of malnutrition in the country. The findings of ‘The Cost of Hunger in Africa,’ study revealed that Ethiopia loses 55.5 billion birr annually due malnutrition.

Ethiopia launched the second National Nutrition Programme
As malnutrition remains to be the underlying cause of more than one in five child deaths in Ethiopia, the goal of the NNP II is to provide a framework for coordinated and integrated implementation of multisector nutrition interventions.

The NNP II is developed taking into account past experiences and lessons learned from the implementation of the NNP I and integrating new initiatives from the second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II).

The updated aims of the NNP II include reducing the prevalence of three crucial indicators for children under five: stunting from 40 per cent to 26 per cent; underweight from 25 per cent to 13 per cent and wasting from 9 per cent to 4.9 per cent.

With the following five strategic objectives, the NNP II envisions Ethiopia free of malnutrition and diet-related non-communicable diseases by 2050.

  1. Improve the nutritional status of women (15 -49 years) and adolescent girls (10 – 19 years)
  2. Improve the nutritional status of children from birth up to 10 years
  3. Improve the delivery of nutrition services for communicable and non-communicable/lifestyle related diseases
  4. Strengthen the implementation of nutrition-sensitive interventions across sectors
  5. Improve multisector coordination and capacity to implement the national nutrition programme

The Government of Ethiopia has demonstrated policy commitment to streamline nutrition efforts by incorporating indicators into the Government’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP II; 2016-20).

UNICEF contributed to this important signing through technical support as a National Nutrition Technical Committee (NNTC) member and played a leading role in supporting the Government of Ethiopia to establish and nurture multisectoral coordination bodies at both federal and regional levels.

The event was attended by representatives from civil society organizations, academia, the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce, donors and UN agencies.


[1] Ministry of Health,  Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources,  Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries,  Ministry of Industry,  Ministry of Water Irrigation and Electricity,  Ministry of Trade,  Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation,  Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs,  Ministry of Women and Children Affairs,  Ministry of Youth and Sports, Government Communication Affairs Office as well as National Disaster Risk Management Coordination Commission

Five in six children under two not getting enough nutrition for growth and brain development – UNICEF

 NEW YORK/ ADDIS ABABA, 14 October 2016 – Five in six children under two years old are not fed enough nutritious food for their age, depriving them of the energy and nutrients they need at the most critical time in their physical and cognitive development, according to a new UNICEF report.

“Infants and young children have the greatest nutrient needs than at any other time in life. But the bodies and brains of millions of young children do not reach their full potential because they are receiving too little food, too late,” said France Begin, Senior Nutrition Adviser at UNICEF. “Poor nutrition at such a young age causes irreversible mental and physical damage.”

UNICEF data show that poor nutritional practices– including the delayed introduction of solid foods, infrequent meals and lack of food variety – are widespread, depriving children of essential nutrients when their growing brains, bones and bodies need them the most. The findings reveal that: 

  • Young children wait too long for their first bites. One in five babies hasn’t been fed any solid foods by the age of 11 months.
  • Half of children aged six months to two years are not fed the minimum number of meals for their age, increasing their risk of stunting.
  • Less than one-third of children in this age group eat a diverse diet – meaning from four or more food groups daily – causing deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.
  • Almost half of pre-school aged children suffer from anaemia.
  • Only half of children aged six to 11 months receive any foods from animal sources – including fish, meat, eggs and dairy – which are essential to supply zinc and iron.
  • The high cost of foods from animal sources makes it difficult for the poorest families to improve their children’s diet. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, only one in six children from the poorest households aged six to 11 months eats a minimally diverse diet, compared to one in three from the richest households.
  • Improving nutrition for young children could save 100,000 lives a year.

Making nutritious foods affordable and accessible to the poorest children will require stronger and more targeted investments from governments and the private sector. Cash or in-kind transfers to vulnerable families; crop diversification programmes; and fortification of staple foods are key to improving nutrition for young children. Community-based health services that help caregivers learn better feeding practices, and safe water and sanitation – absolutely critical in preventing diarrhoea among children – are also vital.

“We cannot afford to fail in our fight to improve nutrition for young children. Their ability to grow, learn and contribute to their country’s future depends on it,” Begin said. 

Ethiopia has experienced rapid, sustained improvement in under-nutrition during the past 15 years. For example, the country has seen a steady reduction in stunting – the fastest rate of improvement in Africa – and a decline in the percentage of underweight and wasted children. Yet, Ethiopia remains in a precarious situation, with large absolute numbers of affected children: 5.3 million children are stunted and 1.2 million children suffer wasting. UNICEF’s nutrition programme collaborates with the Government of Ethiopia to reduce these numbers further, working on multi-sectoral coordination to improve the nutrition of all children, pregnant and lactating women and their families

The Government of Ethiopia recognizes that addressing malnutrition is essential to achieving sustainable development. It therefore has issued the Seqota Declaration to end child malnutrition by 2030. The Declaration lays out a plan to stop the cycle of under-nutrition by bringing together all sectors of the Government, paying particular attention to the importance of nutrition during pregnancy and in the first years of a child’s life. 

Over the past decade, Ethiopia has seen a steady reduction in stunting from 58 per cent in 2000 to 40 per cent 2014, in the percentage of underweight children from 41 per cent to 25 per cent, and in wasting from 12 per cent to 9 percent (Mini EDHS: 2014) 

These trends indicate an improvement in chronic malnutrition over the past 15 years. Yet, 28 per cent of child deaths in Ethiopia is associated with under-nutrition. In addition to this high contribution to the under-five mortality rate, high prevalence of various forms of malnutrition among vulnerable groups in Ethiopia has serious implications for social development and economic growth. In a study conducted in 2009, the total annual cost of under-nutrition was estimated at US$2,775,000, equivalent to 17 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2009.

UNICEF’s strategies for nutrition ensure the achievements of results in four areas: 1) upstream nutrition policy support and multi-sectoral engagement; 2) improved nutrition knowledge and caring behaviours; 3) strengthening of systems for nutrition service delivery; and 4) strengthening partner capacities to respond to nutrition in humanitarian crises.

To accelerate the reduction of chronic and acute malnutrition, UNICEF is working in partnership with sectoral government counterparts, including in health, agriculture, education, social protection, trade and industry, and women, children and youth affairs.

UNICEF also works with United Nations agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO); UNICEF National Committees; donors such as the aid agencies of Canada, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union; civil society organizations; and local and international academic institutions.

El Niño Driven Emergency in Ethiopia

In June, The Government declared the failure of the spring Belg rains affecting smallholder famers and pastoralist. In October a Government –led multi-agency Meher assessment was conducted and concluded that the expected harvest was far below expectation due to poor and erratic rains as a result to El Niño. This led to the increase in the number of priority 1 woredas from 142 in August to 186 and the estimated number of people in need of food assistance rose to 10.2 million with and an estimated 400,000 children with severe acute malnutrition.

In response to this, UNICEF has been supporting the Government in scaling up its response to the emergency by increase the number of health facilities capable of treating severe acute malnutrition, at present 14,788 facilities now fully equipped to treat severe acute malnutrition with supplies such as Ready to Use supplementary food and essential medicines.

Currently 291,214 cases of severe acute malnutrition have already been treated with monthly admissions nearly doubling since then beginning of the year from 20,000 new cases in January to 35,000 -40,000 new admission since August-October. 

See below infographics for more.

El Nino Driven Emergency in Ethiopia

A UNICEF immunisation campaign helps combat deadly outbreaks of measles and polio

By Elissa Jobson

Chou San Kote watches as her son Oratine Rase as he receives polio vaccination from Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation
Chou San Kote watches as her son Oratine Rase as he receives polio vaccination from Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation 24, June 2014 Pagak South Sudanese refugee reception centre, Gambela Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

GAMBELA, ETHIOPIA, 24 JUNE 2014 – At Pagak entry point, on the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan, a long line of parents and their children wait patiently in the intense heat of the refugee registration tent. They anxiously watch as four health workers swiftly administer life-saving vaccinations to the children ahead of them.

UNICEF, in conjunction with the Gambela Region Health Bureau, has rolled out a programme of vaccination for South Sudanese children seeking asylum in Ethiopia as a result of the deadly civil conflict currently raging in their home country. Since fighting began in December last year and the first refugees crossed into Ethiopia at the beginning of January 2014, UNICEF has helped vaccinate 91,785 children against measles and 74,309 against polio. A further 41,333 children have been given vitamin A supplements to help combat malnutrition.

“Registration and screening is done by ARRA (the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs) and UNHCR,” says Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation at Pagak entry point and Kule refugee camp. Priority, he adds, is given to pregnant women and lactating women with children less than six months old. “After registration, the children come to the vaccination point. Because levels of immunisation are low in South Sudan, eligible children are given vaccinations irrespective of whether they have had them in South Sudan or not. They are given an immunisation card which they take with them when they are transferred to the refugee camps,” Lemmi explains.

Health and nutrition
Meaza, a health professional gives a measles jab to a South Sudanese refugee baby being comforted by his mother in Pagak South Sudanese refugee reception centre. Gambela Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

Tesluoch Guak, just two and a half weeks old, is one of the beneficiaries of this programme. He cries as the health assistant gives him his measles injection. Despite her baby’s discomfort, his mother, Chuol Gadet, is pleased that Tesluoch is receiving his vaccination. “I understand that this is important for the health of my child,” she says.

So far, all the refugees have been willing to have their children immunised. “There is no resistance from the parents,” Lemmi confirms. “They are informed before they register as asylum seekers that their children will be vaccinated and why this is needed. There have been no refusals even though the parents haven’t previously received much health education. They have faced many challenges on the way to Ethiopia and they are open to our help.”

Chuol was heavily pregnant when she left her home in Malou county. She travelled on foot for days with her three children, aged 10, 7 and 4, to reach safety in Pagak where she delivered Tesluoch. Her husband, a solider in the government army, doesn’t even know that he has a new-born son. “The journey was hard for me. It wasn’t easy to find food and water. I don’t have words to express how difficult it was.”

The health situation of the newly arrived refugees is very poor. “In general, most of the asylum seekers are malnourished when they come from South Sudan. They have walked long distances without much food. Many have malaria and respiratory tract infections. They are really in a stressed condition,” says Bisrat Abiy Asfaw, a health consultant for UNICEF Ethiopia. This makes them highly susceptible to communicable diseases like measles and polio, he continues.

In February and March there was an outbreak of measles in Pagak – at the time more than 14,000 refugees were waiting to be registered and transferred to refugee camps within Ethiopia. UNICEF quickly rolled out a vaccination programme and helped ensure that children with signs of infection were quickly diagnosed, quarantined and treated.

“We were detecting new cases every day,” says Bisrat. “We tried to vaccinate all the children. We did a campaign on measles to increase and develop immunity within the refugee community.

The focus of the vaccination programme has been on the registration sites, although immunisation also takes place at the refugee camps. “Our strategy is to vaccinate the children as soon as possible after they enter the country, and that means working seven days a week. We are aiming for 100% coverage,” Bisrat says. And the strategy appear to be working. “The cases of measles has significantly decreased and we have had no reports of measles during the last 6 weeks,” Bisrat affirms.

Ethiopia hosted the 3rd Africa’s Nutrition Security Partnership Annual Review Meeting

By Selamawit Negash

Ten month old Hanan Mohammed Ibrahim has her mid upper arm circumference measured
Ten month old Hanan Mohammed Ibrahim has her mid upper arm circumference measured ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Getachew

Malnutrition in Africa is at present one of the leading causes of mortality among children under five. Data indicate that malnutrition including intra uterine growth restriction, stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies contribute to up to 45per cent of all child deaths in Africa.  In sub-Saharan Africa, 40 per cent of children under 5 years of age are stunted. Food and nutrition security in Africa, in particular in Sub Saharan Africa has hardly improved over the last decade, despite many initiatives at global and regional level.

There are evidences that all global advocacy initiatives need country examples – champions that can show in practice, and not just in theory, how to achieve results when resources are scarce and the challenges are great. The European Union (EU) and UNICEF partner to improve nutrition security in Africa at regional level and in a total of four target countries Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda and Ethiopia. The Africa Nutrition Security Partnership (ANSP) programme that is being implemented in 2012-2015 is a multi-donor initiative of in total €21 million with the support from the EU amounting to €15 million. The programme aims at increasing the commitment to nutrition in terms of policies, budgets, and effective programming and implementation. The programme fosters high-level policy engagement to nutrition at continental, regional and national levels and contributes to scaling up of high-impact nutrition interventions in the four target countries by integrating nutrition goals into broader health, development and agricultural efforts.

Ethiopia hosted the 3rd Africa’s Nutrition Security Partnership Annual Review Meeting from 14 to 15 October 2014. Participants from the government of Ethiopia EU, UNICEF as well as Cornell University from continental, regional and country level organisations discuss accomplishments, bottlenecks to implementations and sharing experiences and best practices among ANSP beneficiary countries.

Group Photo: African Nutrition Security Partnership (ANSP) 3rd Annual Review Meeting
Group Photo: African Nutrition Security Partnership (ANSP) 3rd Annual Review Meeting ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

Good progresses is made towards the achievements of the ANSP objectives in all of the four ANSP result areas of policy, capacity, information system and programme scale up. It is clear that during the meeting, that ANSP is helping to improve the political environment for nutrition with strong continental, regional and national leadership, multisectoral coordination and joint accountability scale up community level nutrition interventions.

2015 will be the last year for ANSP support and partners must work to integrate the efforts being made with the local structures and systems to ensure sustainability. It will be very important to work on synergising continental level activities which aim to create enabling policy environment with community level programmes to scale up key high impact multisectoral nutrition interventions.

The meeting emphasised, the support for nutrition in Africa should continue within the framework of the Post 2015 Nutrition Action Plan.