WFP tackles chronic malnutrition
. . . as Japan invests in fighting stunting among Basotho children
BEREA — ‘ Mateboho Lehlome, 30, sat under a tree feeding her 14-month-old daughter the traditional motoho beverage, as she engaged in a lively debate with three fellow villagers.
Since stopping breastfeeding her third child, Lehlome has been giving her the staple food papa (thick maize-meal porridge) with vegetables and the sorghum motoho drink.
On this special day, the four women arrived early at the clinic located in Liphokoaneng village in Berea district, and waited patiently for the distribution of Super Cereal Plus porridge at the Immaculate Clinic. On a monthly basis, scores of women collect the porridge to feed their children who are below the age of two years.
The women look excited as they wait — and this is because they have received some education from the nurses on the nutritional benefits of the porridge, which assists in preventing stunting (chronic malnutrition), a condition that currently affects 39.2 percent of children in Lesotho.
This high stunting rate is classified as critical based on World Health Organisation standards.
Stunting (low height for age) also affects a child’s cognitive development. Like what some nutritionists indicated this week, the devastating reality was stunting is like a curse that never goes away once it is not prevented when the child is below the age of two years.
Sadly, out of the 39.2 percent of children affected, 14.8 are severely stunted and the irreversible consequences, very grave.
In the midst of the high stunting prevalence, Ms Lehlome’s baby is one of the lucky ones. Despite the food-insecurity situation in the family, Ms Lehlome receives some porridge that will make her stand a chance to realise her full potential in life — thanks to the Japanese government.
Through a US$3.7 million funding received from Japan in 2013 and 2014, the United Nations World Food Programme ( WFP) has reached 18,724 children with Super Cereal Plus porridge throughout the country.
However, part of the funding is also assisting 25,000 people build their resilience to weather-related shocks in the four districts of Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing.
Meanwhile, under the nutrition assistance, Ms Lehlome was quick to highlight how the porridge has changed the life of her baby and put a smile on her face. “My child is now healthy.
I am grateful for this assistance because my family cannot afford the nutritious food we should be giving my daughter. I am happy that she is such an energetic child,” Ms Lehlome said.
With the two years of continued funding from Japan, WFP has, since 2013, purchased a variety of food commodities to sustain the nutritional support of both the mothers and children.
A total of 803 metric tonnes (mt) of Super Cereal Plus, 885 mt of maize-meal and 198 mt of peas, have been purchased so far.
The WFP Deputy Country Director, Arduino Mangoni said: “Nutritious food support for children under the age of two, and in particular those from food-insecure households, is important for their good health and development.”
A nurse at Immaculate Clinic, Rethabile Kori said stunting is a huge challenge in the 26 villages served by the centre.
The truth of the matter, she said, was that many families struggled to put food on their tables, let alone nutritious food that is especially intended for the growing bodies and minds of children.
She emphasised the importance of the early identification of all children deprived of adequate nutrition.
“Most families here are poor subsistence farmers; they don’t have enough food and money. Many live far below the poverty line. As a result, we are trying to identify all the affected children on time.
“To achieve this, we are working closely with village health workers to ensure the children are registered to receive the nutritious porridge,” Ms Kori said.
The role of the community health workers, she said, extends beyond the identification of cases.
The village health workers also occasionally hold outreach campaigns with the aim of educating families about healthy eating practices.
However, it is not only the farming households which collect nutritious food from the clinic.
“We do have employed mothers who can afford nutritious food recommended for babies but some do not know what food to buy and how to prepare it.
“We usually begin to notice signs of malnutrition among children from such families after six months of exclusive breastfeeding.”
Ms Kori said the clinic also has cases of children whose health deteriorated after they graduated from the Super Cereal Plus feeding scheme.
To deal with the challenge, she said, the children are enrolled onto another WFP programme targeting children under the age of five years.
The clinic and the village health workers are also on the look-out for children being looked after by poor grandparents or relatives in the absence of the parents due to various reasons.
‘Mamoitheri Mohlanka is one such grandmother who found herself with a grandson to care for after her daughter decided to travel to South Africa to look for employment.
“I started taking care of my grandson when he was only six months old. It was difficult for me because I am an unemployed widow. In the last season, my family harvested very little and we are struggling for food,” Ms Mohlanka said.
With the little money she got as a part-time domestic worker, Ms Mohlanka would buy basic food for her family of six, which, unfortunately did not meet her grandson’s nutritional requirements.
“Four months ago, I noticed that he was not well. His health had de- teriorated fast. I got worried and brought him here (Immaculate Clinic) to ask for help.”
At the clinic, the nurses realised her grandson was malnourished and immediately enrolled him on the WFP feeding programme.
“I am seeing tremendous improvement in his health. The porridge is good. My grandson can now walk.
“Although I still have to work hard to feed my family, I no longer worry about what my grandson will eat because WFP is taking care of that.”
Globally, WFP’S main objective is to ultimately eradicate hunger through various programmes.
One such critical strategy is building the capacity of communities to collectively act against factors that push them to become food -insecure.
Under Lesotho WFP’S Disaster Risk Reduction component of its Country Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organisation is, through the Food For Assets scheme, equipping 25 000 people with knowledge and skills on how to build their resilience to climate-related disasters.
Shocks such as droughts, floods and early frost, negatively impact rural communities’ food production efforts. The rural communities make up 70 percent of the country’s 1.8million population and heavily depend on rain-fed agriculture.
Part of the US$3.7 million funding from the Government of Japan has enabled WFP to purchase 1 515 mt of maize-meal and peas to use as an incentive for the targeted communities engaging in land rehabilitation activities.
Activities such as the planting of trees and grass in order to reduce soil erosion and the construction of stone-lines on steep land and in the gullies for both soil and water conservation, are making a huge difference to the environment.
In 2013, WFP Lesotho introduced a five-year Country Programme (CP) divided into three components of Disaster Risk Reduction, Early Childhood Care and Development and Nutrition and Health.
Another programme, the School Meals, was also launched to provide two nutritious hot meals per each school day to 200,000 pupils in 1,020 schools throughout the country.
Under the CP, the Nutrition and Health component targets 64 000 pregnant women, nursing mothers, children under the ages of two and five and patients on AntiRetroviral Therapy and TB treatment.
The Early Childhood Care and Development provides two hot meals to 50 000 pre-school children countrywide.
Some of the beneficiaries of the WFP feeding scheme help distribute the Super Cereal Plus porridge at the Immaculate Clinic in Berea.