Of the deaths of children under 5 in Sierra Leone, 57 percent are the result of malnutrition, and both the ministry of health and government officials in Sierra Leone have begun work to reduce this horrifying statistic by joining Scaling Up Nutrition and by signing the Nutrition for Growth agreement.

As Sierra Leone recovers from its civil war, which ended in 2002, officials are attempting to shift the focus from malnutrition treatment to malnutrition prevention. Officials have been tracking the correlation between sanitation, education and malnutrition in order to improve prevention techniques.

In an interview with The Guardian, Aminata Shamit Koroma, the director of food and nutrition at the ministry of health in Sierra Leone, noted that women with a higher level of education were more likely to have access to adequate sanitation and less likely to have malnourished children.

In his efforts to prevent malnutrition in children, Koroma has been centering her campaign on breastfeeding and emphasizing to mothers the importance of breastfeeding their infants during the first six months of life. She has been spreading awareness through radio commercials and mother support groups.

Koroma has also been encouraging grandmothers to attend these mother-to-mother support groups so that they can impart their knowledge of child nutrition onto new mothers who might not be aware of the nutrients their children need. The Sierra Leone National Food and Security Food Policy of 2015-2016 also targets fathers so that they support their wives in breastfeeding. Besides emphasizing the future health of their children as a motivating factor, the initiative informs the families that if the mother is breastfeeding her child, they do not have to buy extra food for the child during the first few months of life.

The nutrition policy will also regulate the marketing of supposedly comparable and superior breast milk substitutes in order to ensure that mothers are not tricked by false sales promises. While Koroma knows it is unlikely that infant malnutrition will be eradicated within the next year or two, she recognizes the importance of the steps she is taking as she encourages the people of Sierra Leone to begin to change how they view infant health.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Guardian, WHO, ACDI VOCA, Scaling up Nutrition
Photo: Mission News Wire

Nutrition for Growth
With last month’s G8 Summit, and the ‘Nutrition for Growth’ summit hosted in London before that, a lot of the focus has been on large amounts of international aid earmarked to combat global hunger and malnutrition.

Small-scale, localized projects play just as large a role as international aid efforts, and possibly more beneficial. The original Green Revolution increased crop yields dramatically, but at no small environmental cost. If this large-scale intervention played its role, multiple small-scale projects could produce the same results.

One such project fighting food insecurity is the Soil, Food, and Healthy Communities (SFHC) program in Malawi. This program began ten years ago with efforts to educate local farmers and diversify their crops. The original aim of the project was to improve the health, food security, and soil fertility of poor households in Northern Malawi. This goal was additionally tied into participatory research, testing legume systems and looking at more sustainable approaches to achieving greater food security.

By introducing a variety of different legume options, as well as agricultural techniques, the quality and quantity of food can both be increased, as well as improving soil quality through organic input. This Ecohealth approach, focusing on the health of the entire system and humans’ interaction with it, can be simultaneously beneficial to the communities’ short-term needs, as well as allowing for longer-term sustainability.

Ten years on from the initiation of the project there have been many encouraging signs of success. The introduction of semi-perennial rotation systems, and the diversification of crops, led in some cases to annual return yields double that of the previous system. In addition to these straightforward agricultural benefits, a further goal of SFHC was to educate the local populace regarding nutrition.

The introduction of diverse legumes into the crop rotation system improves soil quality and yield, and also diversifies the local diet. This additional food production can then directly influence the health of the children of the community. As a result of this project, child malnutrition has been reduced by two-thirds over the past ten years in a hospital catchment area serving about 70,000 people and covering 600-square kilometers. This is largely due to farmers now producing soybeans, groundnuts, and other legumes, and incorporating them into the local diet.

– David Wilson

Sources: The Guardian, Winnipeg Free Press