UNICEF, Gvt fight climate change induced malnutrition in children

Martin Muleya

Gracious Mapare (not her real name) gave birth to a bouncing baby boy through caesarian section at Victoria Chitepo Hospital.

After giving birth to her bundle of joy, her happiness was short lived as her health started deteriorating during the time she was detained in hospital.

Mapare for the first few weeks had no problem with breastfeeding her baby as she depended on the food provided by the hospital.

 Before she gave birth she had been living from hand to mouth after her husband abandoned her for another woman. Being an orphan, Mapare had to do menial jobs to help her put food on the table and renting a small room in Mafuke Village, Zimunya.

After she was discharged in hospital, Mapare suffered lactation suppression due to lack of food and this caused her health to further deteriorate.

Lactation suppression in a patient who has given birth can be caused by several factors, including, hormonal changes: after childbirth, the levels of prolactin (the hormone responsible for milk production) drop, and the levels of progesterone and estrogen increase, which can suppress lactation and high levels of stress and anxiety can interfere with milk production.

Her child is no longer breastfeeding yet she is unemployed and staying as a single mother. This has compromised the health of her baby as she cannot afford to buy enough food to feed her.

This is one of the cases that Rhodah Muyambo deal with as a village health worker.

“We do monitor young children that would have been born at our local Zimunya clinic who are underweight. Our mandate is to help in dissemination of information on health matters and also checking the health of the baby although we are unable to offer them food.

Zimunya Clinic in Mutare Rural District.

 “So, in many instances we meet mothers with young children who are less privileged and cannot immediately get assistance from the responsible authorities,” said Muyambo.

She explained that as a village worker they travel long distances in a bid to assist mothers with young children.

In interview with The Midweek Watch on the sidelines of a media tour in Zimunya organised by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), country chief communications officer, Yves Willemot, highlighted how climate change has been impacting on children.

He said one of the key issues that his organisation together with government are working is to fight child malnutrition. The country is currently grappled with El Niño induced drought and children are at high risk of facing malnutrition during the period of lack of food.

Willemot explained that UNICEF is supporting at community level initiatives that can guarantee children to continue to have access to diverse nutritious diet so that they are protected from malnutrition.

“We want to speak about how climate change is impacting on children and how UNICEF together with other partners and government is making sure that the impact of climate change on children is reduced. One of the key issues we are working on is to prevent children into falling in malnutrition.

“These kinds of activities that we run with government are of extreme importance. Community based initiatives should guarantee children to continue to have healthy foods and we do that through supporting care groups led by mothers, peer to peer education, informing each other about nutritious food for children.

 “We also make links to other important food development processes including access to water and hygiene while at the same time making sure that children have access to medical facilities,” Willemot said.

Ministry of Health and Child Care, Mutare District Nutritionist, Bridget Buzuzi highlighted that involving village health workers in the fight against malnutrition was the best way forward.

Asked if the issue of involving health workers and lead mothers has gaps in as far as reaching international best practices;

“I can say that for now this is one of the best practices that Ministry of Health and Child Care has proved to be working, given the limited resources available. The aim of this model (care groups) is to make sure that we reach as many mothers as possible because a single village health worker is not able to talk to each and every mother.

“Some of our village health workers have to visit as many as one hundred households so they may not be able to effectively reach every household. But with the issue of lead mothers work has been divided as each health worker can have four lead mothers under her supervision,” said Buzuzi.

Zimunya clinic caters for a population of 14 322 with 432 comprising of children under one year. A total of 1 575 children are from 1-4years while those aged 5-14 years constitute a total of 3 948.

Expected pregnancies in the year 2024 are 1 760 while expected births are 845 and children above 15years constitute 8 367.

Willemot reiterated that they make sure that community based care groups are key platforms of helping fight malnutrition in children. He said treating a child from an acute malnutrition condition is much more costly than preventing a child from suffering from it.

He said when a child is suffering from acute malnutrition the implication on health is severe as the babe will be vulnerable to common childhood diseases.

Ministry of Health and Child Care in collaboration with UNICEF with funding support from the Health Resilience Fund comprising The UK Government, Irish Aid, Gavi and the European Union are involved in the program.

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