Chancy Namadzunda, AfricaNews reporter in Lilongwe, Malawi

Like many rural and illiterate mothers from her home village Nthiwatiwa in Salima district lying almost 150 kilometres east of the Capital Lilongwe, Malawi, 25 year old Linnes Robert, sitting in tobacco drying shade looked at her daughter with tender love. All she knew was that her daughter was growing each and every passing day, once her daughter, nine months old Loisi smiles, Linnes is assured that all is fine.

“Look at her, my daughter has been a flower in my heart since the day she was born. Every day I woke up, I look at her for inspiration and courage of day while breastfeeding her to maintain the good weight.

“After three months, I started feeding her porridge with salt on a daily basis. I could breastfed her whenever I run out of flour,” she said with passion.

It was then that the child started losing weight. Linnes too was concerned that her daughter was concerned with Loisi deteriorating health.

“I had no solution because in our community, a baby’s loss of weight signifies growth. So I just cast my worries aside because deep down my heart, I knew that she is growing fast and soon Loisi will be helping me with household chores,” Linnes, a mother of two and a piece worker said.

It did not take long when lucky smiled at her, when a Miss Gladys, a community health worker trained by the Infant and Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) first met Linnes during a home visit; she was advised on good feeding using local food.

“I was advised to increase the frequency of breastfeeding, making thicker porridge and diversifying meals that could improve her growth and health.

“I then started to apply Nsinjiro (Groundnuts powder), Chamwamba (Moringa) or groundnuts oil. It was then that her weight started to normalize,” said Linnes.

In Malawi, more than 40 percent of children younger than five years of age are chronically malnourished, a condition that is associated with inadequate feeding practices during the first two years of life.

“Mothers do not always practice exclusive breastfeeding, instead of complementing their infants’ diets with water or watery porridge which puts babies at risk for malnutrition and illness.

When they breastfeed, the sessions are sometimes are sometimes too short and children are only fed from one breast, a practice that leaves babies unsatisfied and compromises the mothers’ breast milk supply,” said Janet Guta, Malawi IYCN country coordinator.

When mothers begin complementary feeding, said Guta, many feed their children foods and drinks that are not nutritious, such as junks and soda resulting into their diets lacking diversity.

According to Mrs. Guta, the cooking is usually done in such a way that all nutrients are destroyed from the food.

She cited overcooking of vegetables and soaking of pounded maize as some of the ways that remove food nutrients.

It was due to this fact that the government decided to come up community-based support and behaviour change interventions.

Research conducted by IYCN confirmed this lack of community based support and concluded that with improved social and behaviour change interventions at community level.

“Without proper nutrition, children suffer severe childhood illnesses, stunted growth, developmental delays, and death,” said Guta.

The Lancet series reports that maternal and child under nutrition is an underlying cause of more than one-third of child deaths and 11 percent of the total global disease burden. In developing countries, more than 3.5 million mothers and children younger than five die each year worldwide as a result of under nutrition.

More than one-third of children in developing countries are at risk of irreversible damage as a result of poor nutrition. Our project focuses on the idea that a window of opportunity for preventing malnutrition exists from pregnancy through the first two years of life.

The proportion of children 0-11 months appropriately fed in Malawi is about 56percent. It is lowest for the 9-11 months age group (at 44 percent in both rural and urban areas) and among female children (55 percent), according to Malawi National Nutrition Policy.

“Many of the vulnerable groups do not have adequate resources for own nutritious food production or market acquisition to secure access to nutritious and entitled diets at household level.

“Poverty is endemic at 45% with 22% as the core poor and 12% without adequate labour, land for food production and caring for large numbers of OVC and child headed households. 22% have small landholdings of less than 0.5 hectare.

“Apart from resource constraints, the frequency of floods and other disasters also militates against adequate nutritious food production.

“Every year some parts of Malawi are affected by food shortages that are exacerbated dependence on rain fed agriculture and climate change,” said Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary responsible for HIV/AIDS and malnutrition in the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC)

The lack of community nutrition workers, according to Malawi National Nutrition Policy, has hindered redress of this situation since many households do not have a reliable source of information and guidance on nutrition matters that is closer to them and monitors their practices for change.

In addition, the policy says gender inequalities have exacerbated malnutrition. Most nutrition education programmes have been targeting women yet household-level decisions are mostly done by men.

Gender roles further skew the distribution of nutritious diets within a household. Men are often favoured in both food and resource distribution.

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