empowering mothers in Mpwapwa, Tanzania to give their children the strongest start to life

Changing behaviours: supporting mothers in Tanzania

This International Women’s Day, we’re empowering mothers in Mpwapwa, Tanzania to give their children the strongest start to life.

By Action Against Hunger

Mar 6 2020

Tanzania is located in East Africa with a population of 55 million. In recent decades, peace and stability has enabled economic growth. But despite progress across a number of health indicators, malnutrition is still common.

Tanzania has one of the highest rates of malnutrition compared to the rest of Africa, with 450,000 children fighting acute malnutrition.

Children struggle to access the treatment they need due to the lack of health workers, supply shortages in vital medicines, and mothers’ low awareness of nutrition practices. Mothers just like Maria.

Maria and Christopher’s story

“I had never heard of malnutrition before, but now I know it is the reason why my son became so ill.”

Maria lives in Mpwapwa, in the Dodoma Region of Tanzania. She’s a mother of ten and Christopher is her second youngest son. When Christopher was two years old he became ill and very weak. Maria took him to hospital, but she didn’t know why he was sick.

Health professionals were unable to find any diseases, like malaria, that they were used to dealing with.

“They didn’t know what was wrong with him,” Maria said. “They just gave me pills and sent him away.”

Christopher’s condition worsened. Whenever he ate he would vomit and Maria had no idea her son was a victim of malnutrition.

Lack of awareness

Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, with a funding award from Postcode African Trust, and in partnership with the Tanzanian Government, we identified that staff in Mpwapwa, at all levels of the health system, were concerned about the issue of malnutrition. However, they lacked the information and expertise they needed to manage it.

“My community didn’t know what malnutrition was,” explained Yuster, a community health worker in Mpwapwa. “There are a number of taboos that have held us back.”

Maria, like so many mothers and caregivers in her community, didn’t know how to identify malnutrition in her son.

But thanks to the award from People’s Postcode Lottery players, things have now changed for the better in her community.

Educating mothers

To help more mothers like Maria, we launched a programme to reduce malnutrition at scale in Tanzania.

The project has allowed us to train 203 community health workers on how to identify children with malnutrition. We’ve also trained these health workers on how to run educational sessions for the community on nutrition and hygiene.

When Maria saw no improvement in her son’s condition, she met a community health worker, who explained to her that Christopher had malnutrition.

“When they told me my son was malnourished, I didn’t know what it was, but I trusted them and followed their advice.”

Maria was referred to a malnutrition clinic where doctors confirmed the health worker’s diagnosis. Christopher was then finally able to receive the treatment he needed.

The educational sessions run by community health workers will help mothers and caregivers like Maria to identify early signs of malnutrition in their own children.

The programme also held 40 cooking demonstrations to give caregivers skills on meal planning, food preparation and feeding young children. These demonstrations helped mothers and caregivers give their children varied diets, full of the nutrients they need to be healthy.

Moving forward

We’ve gained great momentum with our programme in Mpwapwa. Using the successes from the project, we want to scale up our work by influencing the Tanzanian Government to replicate our programme at district and regional levels.

Thanks to the generosity of People’s Postcode Lottery players, more children like Christopher can now access the treatment they need to lead a healthy life.

“He began treatment immediately, treatment which is still ongoing. Thankfully, my son is getting better,” says Maria.

What we achieved in Mpwapwa in 2019:

  • We supported 58 health centres to expand their services to provide treatment and care for children with malnutrition
  • We trained 153 health centre staff
  • We stocked health facilities with vital equipment required to effectively treat malnutrition
  • We trained 203 community health workers on how to identify children with malnutrition and how to run educational sessions for the community on nutrition and hygiene
  • These community health workers then screened 23,133 children under 5 years old for malnutrition
  • We trained 1,629 mothers and caregivers to identify the early signs of malnutrition in their own children using a mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) tape
  • We organised educational sessions for 216,235 members of the community, focusing on topics such as malnutrition and the availability of treatment services, good hygiene practices and food preparation
  • We held 40 cooking demonstrations to give caregivers practical skills on meal planning, food preparation, and feeding of young children

We’re grateful to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for making this possible. Through our partnership, and the players' generosity, funding has reached an incredible £1 million.

Mother's in Tanzania
Mother's in Tanzania

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Photos: Anthony Gale/ Action Against Hunger