“At that time, she was 1 year 7 months old, I had already introduced her to solid foods, I would say I started feeding her porridge a day after she was born not knowing it would affect my child…”
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Shamva
“Mwana anofanira kudya tuporridge tu tete tete, kana tumahewu netumvura kuti asimbe mudumbu, ukaona mwana achiramba kuyamwa anenge achichema zita!”
Loosely translated “A new born baby must and should be fed porridge, or traditional non-alcoholic brew or water, if you see your child crying all it means is that he/she probably is celebrating his/her new name!”
These are some of the beliefs most Zimbabwean women are subjected to and have grown to believe and adhere to religiously not by choice but due to societal pressures from respectable family members like mother in-laws or stubborn aunts. These traditional beliefs coupled with poor nutrition and food insecurity at household level have exposed various children under the age of two to serious malnutrition conditions in most parts of the country.
For one Goodness Nyakudya (22), all hope of seeing her baby Chipo (Not Real name) recovering from her malnutrition condition was lost. “Tanga Takutoona guva”…We were staring death or a funeral in the face as Chipo’s father rightfully put it.
“I discovered that my baby had a problem one day when this other woman a village health worker who moves around monitoring conditions of babies and children in the villagel visited us. Before the village health worker visited us, Chipo was not playing like a normal kid does, even her appetite was poor and she was always sick. When the health worker examined her, she discovered that something was amiss with my baby, Chipo was too small, thin and short for somebody her age.
“That’s is when I was referred to our local Chishapa clinic and I was initiated on the nutrition program for malnourished children being spearheaded by Save the Children and ministry of health. When I visited the Clinic, they weighed her and discovered that her weight was not in tandem with her age, then they measured her Middle Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) and discovered it was very low. Her height was also not corresponding with her age, that’s is when I was initiated on the program. At first I just thought that maybe my daughter’s condition was nothing to worry about, I just thought she had a small body and that was her stature not knowing that I was nursing malnutrition,” said Goodness.
She said the Village Headman, Sabhuku Mhene was the first person to advise her to take Chipo to the hospital of which she did and during that period she was giving her child both solids and breast milk.
A single glance at Chipo tells a story, one of a young toddler who has gone through hell as a result of malnutrition.
“At that time, she was 1 year 7 months old, I had already introduced her to solid foods, I would say I started feeding her porridge day after she was born not knowing it would affect my child. She is my second child and on my first child I did the same (feeding porridge) but that child wasn’t affected at all.
“As a young person who stays alone with her young husband, I didn’t think feeding Chipo porridge would cause any harm. I just thought since she has a mouth, she was able to eat.”
Goodness says she has learnt her lesson and is now adhering to the recommended four star diet which ensures the her baby who is now 2 and half years old is fed a balanced diet. She has also joined a Women Support Group in the area and she says she has learnt a lot from basic hygiene and child care.
“These days I feed her properly, I give porridge in the morning and an egg, roasted nuts and sadza and meat in the evening.
“Before she was initiated on the program, I would just make porridge in the morning and she would spend the day then probably give her milk later in the day. These days I make sure that even if the foodstuffs are expensive I have to make sure she gets a proper meal daily,” said Goodness.
According to World Health Organization guidelines, a child or a new born baby must be breastfed exclusively for the first six months after birth before being exposed to solids or other liquids.
According to Save the children Manager Nutrition and Health, Tendai Gunda, food insecurity at household level was to blame for the high malnutrition rates in the Shamva district and other parts like Binga, Kariba, and parts of Gweru.
“The Elnino induced droughts saw most communities which rely heaviliy on Agriculture being affected. These places are Binga, Shamva, Chegutu, Kariba and Lower Gweru.
“However, we have managed to set up Support groups in those so as to equip the women with the necessary nutrition knowledge and skills. They conduct cooking demonstrations and counselling services are also offered to make sure everyone is familiar with what we are trying to achieve,” said Gunda.
Save the Children in partnership with the ministry of health and child care (MoHCC) is implementing an emergency nutrition response program in five districts with funding received from DFID through UNICEF. The program has successfully supported the rehabilitation of malnourished children in Bindura, Shamva, Mbire, Chegutu and Gweru districts.
Meanwhile, there are several types of Malnutrition but three two are most common in Zimbabwe i.e Kwashiorkor and Marasmus.
Kwashiorkor is as severe form of acute malnutrition characterized by bi-lateral edema and weight for height of greater than or equal to -2 SD. Kwashiorkor and all forms of malnutrition can affect organs and the function of those organs.
Dietary protein is required for synthesis of amino acids producing proteins needed for tissue repair. Energy is needed for basal metabolic rate essential for biochemical and physiologic functions. Micronutrients are essential in metabolic functions as components and cofactors in enzymatic processes.
On the other hand, Marasmus is a Severe form of acute malnutrition characterized by wasting of body tissues. Energy intake is insufficient for body’s requirements, body must draw on own stores, liver glycogen exhausted in a few hours – skeletal muscle protein used via gluconeogenesis to maintain adequate plasma glucose.
When near starvation is prolonged, fatty acids are incompletely oxidized to ketone bodies, which can be used by brain and other organs for energy.