By Michael Gwarisa recently in Shamva
ZIMBABWE witnessed a surge in child malnutrition cases in the years 2015/16 owing to the Elnino induced drought which left millions of Zimbabweans from most parts of the country in need of food aid.
According to information gathered by Save the Children Zimbabwe a Non- Governmental Organisation which deals with issues affecting children and their rights, cases of Severe Malnutrition were recorded over the past two years as a result of the droughts and extreme cases were documented in Binga, Chegutu, Kariba, Shamva and Some parts of the Midlands province.
However, to combat rampart cases of malnutrition in children, the government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) in partnership with Save the Children Zimbabwe have engaged Village Health Workers to form women support groups in various districts to assist in the fight against Malnutrition in children especially those below the age of five.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Yvonne Gaba Women Support Group leader in Chakonda Village in Shamva said the support group which was formed in August this year has already registered significant progress in the areas of scaling up nutrition and breaking traditional perceptions regards child nutrition.
“This support group was started in August this year and has a membership of 15 women including pregnant women and those with children below the age of two. We also have elderly women in the group, these are a very key stakeholder in our efforts as they help in encouraging their daughter in laws to breastfeed exclusively for six months
“We have discovered that elderly women in Zimbabwe are the ones who drive certain superstitious beliefs like if a child refuses his mother’s milk it’s something to do with the spirits or all those kinds of superstitions. The support group is here to break some of those barriers and beliefs and encourage women to adhere to recommended child nutrition procedures,” said Gaba.
She added that there has been a reduction in malnutrition cases in the area since the beginning of the year when Save the Children and government commenced their nutrition initiative in the area.
“The problem of malnutrition was very common in the area but since Save the Children came through with their food hand-outs to children who exhibited signs of malnutrition, we now see an improvement in the condition of most children around Chakonda.
“This year, we only referred two children to the district hospital who showed signs of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The biggest challenge we had however was resistance from elderly women in the community who still believe excusive breastfeeding does not work and infants must be fed all kinds of foods soon after birth but the level of resistance is dropping every day.”
The support group meets once every Monday and conducts door to door visits around households in the area. They also offer counselling services to pregnant women and lactating women as a way of recruiting new membered to the group.
Meanwhile, Save the Children Nutrition Officer for Shamva and Bindura, Beaula Mutonhodza said the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) has dropped and cases of malnutrition are on the decline.
“Here in Shamva, GAM was above 5% of which means anything above that percentage is treated as a serious case of malnutritions, In this area it was 12.3%. For Severe Acute Malnutrition, it was 6% of which anything above 2% is treated as an emergency.
“That’s how bad things were, we are glad to say our situation here in Shamva has changed even our GAM rate is no longer at 12.3% and now stands at i would say is below 5%,” said Mutonhodza.
Gamuchirai Godobwe from Chataika Village in Shamva who is also a member of the support group implored women to take issues of exclusive breastfeeding seriously.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) classification when Global Acute Malnutrition is below 5% it is acceptable and when it is 5-9% it is poor, 10-14% is serious and 15% and above is very critical.
Zimbabwe is part of the initiative Scaling Up Nutrition Movement which was initiated in 2010.