Sierra Leone has both one of the highest malnutrition rates and one of the highest child mortality rates. More than a third of children are chronically malnourished; in 2010, 22 percent were underweight, 44 percent were stunted, or had a low height for their age and eight percent were wasted, or had a low weight for their height.
The child mortality rate is 267 deaths per 1,000 children. Almost half of these premature deaths are caused by malnutrition.
The major influence in the high malnutrition rate is the lack of breastfeeding. Only eight percent of infants are breastfed. The rest are given insufficient substitutes, sometimes water.
Because of the conflict in Sierra Leone’s recent past, malnutrition has only recently come into focus as a concern. Even now, malnutrition is one of the most neglected areas of concern for the country. Despite Sierra Leone’s economic growth, the number of underweight children has increased 24 percent.
With such a high rate of malnutrition, many organizations are working to lessen the number of those malnourished.
One focus has been to vary diets, many of which consist mostly of rice. Farmer Field Schools were developed to increase agricultural productivity, but they have now been adapted to teach farmers how to raise more nutritious crops.
These Field Schools also connect farmers to markets where they can sell their crops.
Mother-to-mother support groups have also been set up. These target the community level by educating women to teach others. They also report instances of malnourishment that they see.
A total of 1,228 Peripheral Health Units are running in Sierra Leone, too. They serve around 5,000 people each by providing medical care and nutrition services.
The WFP, UNICEF and WHO have also started their own supplementary feeding programs and centers.
There are 63 WFP-organized supplementary feeding centers in western Sierra Leone, which have reached almost 50,000 children. They are funded by the government of Japan.
Children who are under 70 percent of a normal body weight are admitted.
The centers give children sugar, oil and a modified cereal that is enriched with micronutrients. The UNICEF centers provide high-protein biscuits, therapeutic milk and a complex of vitamins and minerals.
Parents also receive health and nutrition education from the centers. Many parents believe that milk and eggs are bad for children, and this education corrects these notions. They also teach parents how to provide supplemental feedings.
After they provide rations and education, the centers continue to monitor the progress of the children. They check to make sure children do not develop pneumonia or diarrhea, and they check to ensure that the child’s health improves.
Sierra Leone faces many struggles as they attempt to combat malnutrition. The constraints for aid range from low funds, to a lack of data for what is needed, to low governmental support.
Staff are often underqualified, and there is frequent turnover. The low numbers of personnel lead to less knowledge being passed to the people who need it, as information is diluted passing from person to person.
Mothers have low incentives to help their children because they are often blamed for their children’s poor health. They see it as shameful to admit their children are malnourished, so they do not seek help.
Many nutrition efforts have seen an added strain from the recent Ebola outbreak, as well. Sierra Leone has been upgraded to a Level Three food emergency, the highest threat level.
Despite these setbacks, Sierra Leone is working hard to increase the health of its population. The country is making progress, but there is still work to be done to decrease malnutrition in the country.
– Monica Roth