SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Mumbwa
ZAMBIA is among 22 African countries with the highest burden of undernutrition in children under age five, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Thousands of children and women suffer from one or more forms of malnutrition, including low birth weight, wasting, stunting, underweight, and multiple micronutrient deficiencies. An individual’s nutritional status is influenced by two things – food and care, both of which require adequate nutrition. Poor nutrition among children due to lack of resources or knowledge of balancing a diet is one major factor that leads to acute malnutrition in under-fives. Some of the symptoms of malnutrition are stunted growth, diarrhoea, unexplained weight loss and overweight, body weakness, recurrent infections, delayed wound healing and poor concentration, among many others. Under-nutrition can be greatly reduced through the delivery of simple interventions at key stages: before a mother becomes pregnant, during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding. This is why the World Food Programme (WFP) has been implementing a Scaling-Up-Nutrition (SUN) project in Mumbwa district to promote nutrition among women and children. WFP programme associate Christine M’hango said the SUN project, worth US$392,210, encourages complementary feeding using locally produced nutritious foods to promote good health. The organisation pumped in this money in the first phase of the project between 2015 and 2017. For now, the local communities have taken charge of the projects, whereas WFP will only monitor the work to ensure that it is sustainable. Mrs M’hango said the project was implemented in seven primary schools that have ventured into gardening to support school feeding programmes. “This project has benefited 1,600 people, among them lactating and pregnant mothers and children below two years. About 5,700 pupils from the seven schools have also benefited,” she said The project was implemented in Mumbwa to reduce malnutrition and also fight stunted growth in children below two years. It has also helped to promote the production of indigenous foods as people have become more knowledgeable about the nutritional value of traditional foods. Ms M’hango said under the school gardening project, 150 volunteers were trained to promote various nutritious foods. “The seven beneficiary schools under the school gardening project are Nambala, Moono, Naluvwi, Kalisowe, Sonkwe, Nalubanda and Muchabi primary schools,” she said She said the trained volunteers have been sensitising people in the district on the need to produce nutritious foods. And Mumbwa District Focal Point Person for the school feeding programme Clarence Mutiti said the school feeding programme, which came into effect in 2011, has boosted enrolment levels in schools. “With the feeding programme, many children have been enrolled and those who had stopped have started coming because they are assured of a meal,” Mr Mutiti said. Teachers have also observed improved performance of pupils while absenteeism has greatly reduced. “Most pupils are motivated to attend classes because of the feeding programme. We receive cooking oil and cowpeas which we distribute in these schools for pupils to feed,” Mr Mutiti said. Moono Primary School head teacher Samson Sakala stated that the feeding programme was yielding positive educational outcomes because children from underprivileged families are guaranteed of meals from school. The school has a garden where they produce food for the feeding programme. The crops are also used as teaching aides to help children appreciate their nutritional value. Mr Sakala was confident that the school would sustain the SUN project as WFP funding comes to an end. “Our school enrolment has drastically improved. For instance, 435 pupils were enrolled in 2016 and 475 last year,” he said. And Queen Litendo, who had just written her Grade Nine examination at Moono Primary School, said the SUN feeding programme has helped improve performance of many pupils. The programme has also scored many successes through the Community Health Volunteers (CHV) project in terms of resuscitating sick children. Christina Malambo of Mumbwa’s Nalubamba area thanks WFP for the SUN project, which she says helped to save the life of her one-year-old baby. She said her baby was at the verge of death, but good nutrition, combined with breastfeeding, restored the child to health. “I continued breastfeeding and my mother in-law taught me how to prepare nutritious porridge for the baby using cowpeas, kapenta, groundnuts. That’s how my baby was healed,” Ms Malambo said. Her mother-in-law, who is among women that have benefited from the CHV community training programmes, encouraged her not to wean the baby when it was very sick. As for Kesina Chisangano of Namukombwe under Chief Shakumbila’s area, her son survived acute malnutrition. His whole body was severely swollen. But through CHV, Ms Chisangano learnt how to prepare nutritionally balanced meals for her son and that was his “medicine”. She remembers that when the child’s body started swelling, she rushed him to the clinic. But medical personnel there could only prescribe nutritious food for his treatment. As Zambia continues to grapple with malnutrition, part of the solution lies in making people appreciate the nutritional value of traditional foods and how they can prepare nutritionally balanced meals.