By David Shanklin, Senior Health Specialist, and Virginia Sowers, Community Manager
ChildFund is launching a pilot project in Senegal aimed at reducing the impact of malnutrition among infants and young children living in poverty.
Through an integrated intervention, the project will target the major reasons why young children from birth to age three experience faltering growth:
- inadequate intake of nutritious food
- poor caregiver-child relationships
- lack of consistent responsive care giving including during feeding
- frequent illnesses
- poor family hygiene and lack of potable water.
This 12-month pilot will be based in one of the districts where ChildFund Senegal currently operates health huts.
For several years, ChildFund has worked with community-based organizations in Senegal to measure child growth (based on minimal anticipated growth indicators for the child's age) and implement home-based counseling for mothers of children found to be at risk. During the past decade, Senegal has seen a marked decline in child malnutrition, often attributed to community-driven child growth promotion.
The term "growth promotion" simply means routinely weighing children, charting their growth, identifying problems and responding in time to prevent malnutrition and death. Because malnutrition contributes to more than 50 percent of all deaths of children under age five in the developing world, applying successful health and nutrition strategies is a top priority.
Building on the strong foundation of growth-promotion activities already in place in Senegal, the new project will target parental knowledge of nutrition and promote exclusive breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding and the use of indigenous, low-cost food sources.
Parenting education and support around the importance of responsive feeding practices, developmental stimulation and the feeding environment will also be targeted. Emphasizing the importance of hygiene, potable water and recognizing the danger signs of common serious illnesses are key educational themes.
It's critical to break the vicious cycle of repeated illnesses and growth faltering that frequently lead to malnutrition and/or death of children age three and younger.
ChildFund-trained monitors and volunteers will
- lead twice-monthly parenting support sessions
- reinforce newly learned behaviors that help parents keep children healthy
- measure the children's monthly individual growth (weight and height)
- discuss health topics that support growth
- promote positive parent-child interactions.
Children who are identified as at risk of malnutrition or developmental delays and their parents will receive increased attention during home visits by community volunteers, who will tailor individual action plans. These plans will target the identified nutritional, health or interactional barriers to healthy growth.
Children with observable health and development problems will be referred to local health facilities or child development specialists. If children live within food insecure households, they will receive supplemental foods. Children who are determined to be malnourished will participate with their mothers in community-based foyers—offering holistic health support for the child and mother.