Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams Providing Crucial Services for Pastoralist Mothers As They Cope with Drought

By Rebecca Beauregard

GASHAMO, SOMALI, 15 February 2017 – Mutas does not look at his mother. He is not looking anywhere, rather he lays still, his unfocused pupils covered occasionally by heavy eyelids. While we talk, his mother, Bedra Dek, keeps her eyes entirely on him. Her one-year-old son is suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and despite the food and water shortage and her two other children, she explains that all her thoughts are focused on him improving.

“When your child is well, spiritually you feel happy. This is what I am waiting and hoping for. Nothing else is in my mind except this,” Bedra speaks softly, her eyes never wavering from her son.

About six months ago, Mutas became sick with a cold. Since then, he has fought that illness and intermittent diarrhoea while they lived in remote rural areas. Living in remote areas means even farther than where we are now, which is over 300 km from the regional capital and 63 km off the paved road through desert sand – no roads. Bedra walked yet another 15 km to the settlement just outside Al-Bahi kebele (sub-district) after hearing that there was a mobile health and nutrition team (MHNT) providing lifesaving services. She knew Mutas was not improving, and indeed, shortly after her arrival, he had become lethargic and largely unresponsive.

MHNT in Somali drought 2017
Bedra Dek, 21-years-old, looks at her one-year-old Mutas Abdulahi, who is ill from malnourishment. ©UNICEF/2017/Tesfaye

At 21-years-old, Bedra has 7- and 4-year-old daughters in addition to Mutas. They are a pastoralist family, living in a rural village and often traveling vast kilometres in search of water and grazing land for their livestock.

While the semi-arid Somali region is often dry, the drought brought on by the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) in the past few months is beyond anything Bedra has experienced. Her family’s herd of over 200 goats and sheep is now down to four, and their physical appearance is too poor to sell in the market.

Upon arriving in Al Bahi, she went to the MHNT, which has temporarily set up as a static clinic in the site to service the hundreds of families in the area. MHNTs were initially set up over a decade ago in this region as a unique and necessary component of the emergency health service delivery system to reach nomadic families such as Bedra’s. They respond to disease outbreaks, provide routine immunizations and basic healthcare including treatment of common illnesses, conduct screening and manage uncomplicated cases of malnutrition as well as refer to higher levels of care as necessary. Here, the team has encountered high levels of malnutrition and the majority of children have low immunization status. The team is both responding to emergency care needs as well as conducting mass immunization and other preventative measures to ensure that a temporary settlement like this does not create further disease and suffering.

Once a child is diagnosed with SAM, they are provided with ready-to-use-therapeutic-food (RUTF) and medications which should help them to quickly improve. To ensure progress, mothers are instructed to come weekly to have their children checked. We meet Bedra, as she waits with Mutas for his weekly check.

MHNT in Somali drought 2017
The homes of pastoralists gathered at the temporary Al Bahi site starting from December 2016, in Gashamo woreda, Somali region. ©UNICEF/2017/Tesfaye

UNICEF continues to support the GoE’s MHNTs through vehicle provision, transportation allowances, emergency supplies and technical guidance. UNICEF emergency health and monitoring consultant, Kassim Hussein, was present when Mutas was referred. When asked about his role, he explained how he roves around the region providing technical support. “During emergencies, things may be done in a haste, there may be staffing or technical knowledge gaps, or the situation may reach extreme levels and the team is too busy to report. I make rounds to all the teams, providing technical support and ensuring standards of care and supplies are available at adequate levels. I then report back to UNICEF and the regional health bureau,” explains Kassim.

Now Mutas is being seen by Mohammed Miyir, the team leader of the MHNT in Al-Bahi temporary settlement. Originally, he diagnosed Mutas with SAM; now his condition has developed medical complications, making him unable to receive fluids or medicine. This development signals the need for him to be sent to a stabilization centre (SC) at the Gashamo woreda (district) health centre, where he will receive in-patient advanced care until he reaches a minimal level of improvement in his responsiveness and weight.

Bedra is perplexed. Just minutes before they told her this news, she had said she wanted anything for him to improve. Now that it may happen, a new reality hit her. Her two daughters will need to be left behind – there is no room in the MHNT car. This is often an issue mothers out here face. With husbands caring for the grazing livestock, if they need to go to a SC for further treatment, who will take care of their other children? Some find neighbours to watch their kids, other mothers choose to stay and hope for the best, concerned about finding their children again as people are so mobile.

For Bedra, she has another 10 minutes to decide until the car will be ready for her.

Surviving hard times through therapeutic foods

Story – Bethlehem Kiros

Photos – Meklit Mersha 

SOUTHERN NATIONS, NATIONALITIES AND PEOPLE’S REGION (SNNPR), November 2016- Poverty and drought have left people in many parts of Ethiopia to grapple with food shortage; SNNPR is no different. Children are most affected, as evidenced by a high number of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) cases. Fortunately, the Government of Ethiopia implements the Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme, supported by UNICEF with generous contribution from ECHO. The programme enables children affected by malnutrition to receive life-saving services at stabilization centres (SC) and health posts, such as 32-year-old Bogalech Boreda’s twin infants.

Bogalech Boreda, 32, has 6 children. Her youngest 10-months-old twins Tegegn and Kibru Elias have both become severely malnourished because she could not nurse them sufficiently.
Bogalech’s 10-month-old twins Kibru and Tegegn have been in the Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Programme (OTP) for SAM more than once. Since Bogalech has three more children at home, she says feeding the twins has not been easy.

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She gets help from her older children when they return from school, such as Caleb, 12, pictured here holding one of the twins.  Still, taking care of the infants occupies most of Bogalech’s day, making it impossible for her to work. Her husband is unemployed with an additional two children from another wife, his earnings from a small plot of farm land are not enough to provide for them.

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The health extension workers (HEWs) of Morancho Kutela health post have arranged for Bogalech to receive targeted supplementary food multiple times since the twins were born. “I normally had enough milk to nurse my children in the past,” explains Bogalech, “but now, there are two of them and I also do not eat enough at home, so they have been suffering since they were born.”

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Three weeks before the picture was taken, Tegegn suffered from diarrhoea and was referred to the Stabilization Centre (SC) at the kebele’s (sub-district) health centre. After a few days of antibiotics and therapeutic milk treatment, he was referred to the health post for OTP to continue his treatment as an outpatient. Since his brother’s situation was not much better, both were enrolled to receive the RUTF.

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In the two weeks since the boys’ treatment began, Bogalech says she has seen progress on her babies’ health and appearance. “They love the [RUTF], they just cannot get enough of it. And the thought of having something to give them when they are hungry gives me such relief,” she adds. Since she is nursing them and providing additional food in her home, she hopes they will grow strong and healthy.

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Their middle-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and weight is measured every week until they reach their target weight for discharge. Currently at 6.2 kg, Tegegn’s target weight for discharge is 6.9 kg, which is still about 2 kg underweight for an average 10-month-old boy according to World Health Organization guidelines. His MUAC was 10.9 cm when he was first enrolled for treatment and has now reached 11.25 cm.

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Bogalech dreams of starting an avocado and corn flour business in the market to support herself and her children.

 

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.

UNICEF and WFP Regional Directors visit El Niño driven drought response in Ethiopia

Afar Region – Ethiopia Ms Leila Pakkala and Ms Valerie Guarnieri, UNICEF and WFP Regional Directors for Eastern and Central Africa, have visited the ongoing government-led drought response where UNICEF-WFP are closely collaborating. The drought is affecting six regions in Ethiopia, and 9.7 million people are in need of urgent food relief assistance including approximately 5.7 million children who are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water as a result of the current El Niño driven drought.

In Afar Region, where an estimated 1.7 million people are affected by the drought, including 234,000 under-five children, the Regional Directors visited UNICEF/WFP/Government of Ethiopia supported programmes. These included the targeted supplementary feeding programme (TSFP) and an outreach site where one of Afar’s 20 Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams (MHNTs) provides preventive and curative health, nutrition and WASH services to a hard-to-reach community in Lubakda kebele.

Ms Leila Pakkala and Ms Valerie Guarnieri, UNICEF and WFP Regional Directors for Eastern and Central Africa in Ethiopia visit

The Mobile Health and Nutrition Team provides Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP) and targeted supplementary feeding programme (TSFP) services to remote communities. The TSFP is integrated with MHNT services that address under five children and pregnant and lactating women with moderate acute malnutrition, and link them to TSFP when they are discharged from OTP. This solves the challenge in addressing the SAM–MAM continuum of care and preventing moderate acute malnourished children deteriorating into severe acute malnutrition.

The Directors also visited a multi-village water scheme for Afar pastoralist communities in Musle Kebele, Kore Woreda (district) which suffers from chronic water insecurity.

“Valerie and I are hugely impressed by the work of the WFP and UNICEF teams in Afar,” said UNICEF’s Pakkala.  “The quality of the work being done in such difficult circumstances – from the mobile health and nutrition teams, to WASH, protection, education and advocacy – is remarkable. We were also immensely impressed with the national level partnership between UNICEF and WFP, and our credibility with government and donors. The relationship and collaboration is a model for other countries to learn from and emulate.”

“Ethiopia is showing us that drought does not have to equal disaster,” said Valerie Guarnieri of WFP.  “We can clearly see the evidence here that a robust, government-led humanitarian response – supported by the international community – can and does save lives in a time of crisis.”

UNICEF and WFP continue to support the Government in responding to the current drought with a focus on the most vulnerable and hard to reach communities by using proven context specific solutions and approaches.

Breastfeeding gives children the best start in life: key for sustainable development

Giving children the best start in life begins with breastfeeding.  Breastmilk is the natural first food for newborns. It provides children with necessary nutrients for their growth and development and protects them from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.

There is no better substitute food for a breastmilk. A breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child, and breastfeeding drastically reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea, two major child killers. The longer breastfeeding is delayed, the higher the risk of death for children in their first month of life.

This year when the world celebrates breastfeeding week (1-7 August) emphasis has been made on breastfeeding and its importance to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).

Here in Ethiopia, when the event was celebrated at the Ministry of Health the State Minister of Health, Dr Kebede Worku, said that breastfeeding has an ‘all rounded’ benefit that keeps children healthy, happy and more productive at later age. He also stressed that mothers need to be supported to breastfeed their children both at home and in the workplace.

World Breastfeeding Week 2016
UNICEF deputy representative to Ethiopia, Shalini Bahuguna, speaking at the World Breastfeeding Week ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Bizuwerk

UNICEF Deputy Country Representative to Ethiopia, Shalini Bahuguna, on her part said “optimum breastfeeding to children under six months is an effective resilience measure.”  She also underscored UNICEF’s commitment to promote early and exclusive breastfeeding by engaging fathers, religious leaders as well as members of the community.

According to UNICEF, early breastfeeding rates in sub-Saharan Africa have increased by 19 per cent from 1995 to 2011. This is the highest rate when compared to other regions.  It is estimated that 41 per cent of children in sub-Sharan Africa are exclusively breastfed. When it comes to Ethiopia, the numbers are encouraging. Ethiopia is one of the leading countries with 52 per cent of children exclusively breastfed within the first six month. But still there is a long way to go as the country has high stunting rate.

Breastfeeding and sustainable development

Early and exclusive breastfeeding helps children to survive. That is a fact. Yet, breastfeeding is also linked with national development. Evidence shows that the benefits of breastfeeding extend into adulthood.  A well breastfed child has good sensory and cognitive development which is associated with better educational achievement. Healthy and better educated children will be more productive and positively impact socio-economic development.

Breastfeeding also contributes to poverty reduction. It is a natural and cost effective way of feeding which do not burden household budget as compared with formula feeding. Thus, supporting breastfeeding is the smartest investment nations can make to ensure the wellbeing of their citizens.

It is, therefore, critical to promote optimal breastfeeding and provide support to mothers who have social and commercial pressures that compromises their decision to breastfeed.

 

World Breastfeeding Week 2016

Saving a child too thin to be vaccinated

By Bethlehem Kiros

Fatima Yesuf, 25, brings her 8 months old daughter to the Metiya health center for checkup and to receive the Plumpynuts food supplementsAMHARA REGION, Ethiopia, February 2016 – Moyanesh Almerew, a Health Extension Worker in Arara Kidanemeheret Kebele (sub-district) in Amhara Region can testify to how bad the current drought in Ethiopia is for children. She is one of thousands employed as part of the nationwide Health Extension Programme, a community-based programme bringing basic health services to the doorstep of Ethiopia’s large, rural population. According to Moyanesh, they have had seen many more cases of severe acute malnutrition among children this year as compared to previous years and the cases they are receiving are worse. Among them, six-month-old, Fikir, whom Moyanesh saw during a home visit, stands out.

“You would not believe how thin she was when we first found her,” recounts Moyanesh, “She had never been vaccinated so when we tried to give her the vaccines, it was not possible because she was only skin and bones,” explains Moyanesh. When she was first brought to the Arara Kidanemeheret Health Post, the child weighed just 4.5 kg and the measurement of her mid-upper arm circumference – the criteria for identifying severe malnutrition – was 10.5 cm. She was severely acutely malnourished.

Thankfully, after receiving treatment, Fikir has gained 2kg after treatment, which included medicine and therapeutic food for several weeks, and her mid-upper arm circumference grew to 11.8 cm, which puts her in the moderately acutely malnourished range. She continues to receive outpatient treatment at the health post.

Moderately acutely malnourished children are enrolled in the World Food Programme-supported Targeted Supplementary Feeding programme through which they receive fortified blended food and vegetable oil for six months to aid their nutritional recovery. Both this and the UNICEF-supported treatment for severe acute malnutrition are routine responses which are all the more critical in a crisis.

Weynitu Demissie, 34, has a 7 months old daughter who is recovering from acute malnutrition
Weynitu Demissie (far left) walks a long distance to get to Arara Kidanemeheret Health Post where she receives therapeutic food for her seven-month-old malnourished daughter, Mastewal. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Nahom Tesfaye

Seven-month-old Mastewal is another child who has been treated at the Arara Kidanemeheret Health Post. Her mother, Weynitu, says that the drought has taken quite a toll on her family, especially on Mastewal. The child was extremely emaciated before receiving treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Weynitu walks for more than two hours over steep hilly ground to get to the health post for Mastewal’s treatment but she says it is worth all the hardship since her daughter has shown a lot of progress in the last few of months.

To Moyanesh, it is a relief to see the wonders that therapeutic food treatment does for the children. “I doubt that some of these children would have survived if they didn’t receive this treatment,” she says.

Across the country, 458,000 children are expected to need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2016. More broadly, 10.2 million people, 6 million of them children, are in need of emergency food assistance due to the drought. UNICEF, the Nutrition sector lead agency, continues to coordinate the nutrition emergency response. With the support of donors, UNICEF provides supplies for the management of severe acute malnutrition and supports the treatment of malnourished children through the community-based management of acute malnutrition, along with training, quality assurance and monitoring of the nutrition emergency response. UNICEF is also supporting efforts to provide drought-affected communities with access to clean water and health services to address major causes of child illnesses and deaths that have been exacerbated by the drought.

To continue nutrition emergency response activities over the coming months, additional funds of US$5 million are needed, subject to needs-based revisions. A further US$ 42 million is needed over the next four years to strengthen nutrition services and build resilience to future shocks among communities that are worst-affected by the drought.