Empowering mothers to lead the fight against malnutrition in Kenya

Empowering mothers to lead the fight against malnutrition in Kenya

By Action Against Hunger

Aug 15 2018

In Kenya, 188,928 children under the age of 5 die every year from conditions including severe acute malnutrition. Sadly, most of these deaths are preventable, if children receive timely and appropriate treatment.

The long distances between remote villages and primary health care centres is undoubtedly a barrier to children receiving treatment. But what our teams have also found is that mothers often aren’t aware of the services these health care centres provide, or don’t trust them.  

In Isiolo County, Action Against Hunger are running a pilot project to try to tackle these issues at village level. Our innovative scheme trains mothers to detect acute malnutrition in their own children with a simplified version of the malnutrition measuring device (click-MUAC). The scheme empowers mothers to monitor the nutritional status of their children themselves, and provides awareness raising on the treatment options available at nearby primary health care centres.

Mother of 5, Elizabeth, was trained by Action Against Hunger in the village of Tupendane. Until recently, none of her children had ever seen a doctor: “I thought that the normal thing is to wait for things to improve by themselves, I was not aware of the risks I was running.”

After Elizabeth was trained by Action Against Hunger, her 4th child was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. Luckily, Elizabeth knew what to do and her daughter is now receiving treatment at the nearby primary health care centre. Elizabeth also continues to monitor her progress from home. Once a week she takes out the click-MUAC and with her daughter sitting astride her knees, she places the tape around her upper-middle forearm. Through bands of colours in red (severe acute malnutrition), yellow (moderate acute malnutrition) and green (normal), Elizabeth is able to monitor her daughter’s condition. This time the tape stops in the yellow colour. "With this I can see that my daughter has come out of danger, but she is still sick, so she should continue the treatment until the tape stops in green," explains Elisabeth.

Elizabeth’s story demonstrates that by providing a small amount of training to mothers in Kenya, we’re equipping them with the knowledge and the tools to bring about positive change within their own families and communities. Thanks to her success, Elizabeth is now head of this project in her village and is spreading the message to other mothers. When a neighbour’s child fell sick, she was able to diagnose her with moderate acute malnutrition: “It was in yellow, so I advised her to go to the health centre.”

"I like to help as others have helped me” says Elizabeth, “I cannot read or write, but I have acquired some knowledge and I feel the duty to pass it on. When I explain something important to a woman who did not know it, I feel that I am doing something important for her life", she concludes with a satisfied smile.

By working with mothers like Elizabeth, Action Against Hunger are ensuring we can achieve lasting and sustainable change for malnourished children.

Action Against Hunger has been working in Kenya since 2002
Action Against Hunger has been working in Kenya since 2002

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Image: Lys Arango for Action Against Hunger