Wives Teach their Husbands how to Spot Malnutrition

How Action Against Hunger is empowering mums in Somalia to work with their husbands to spot malnutrition.

By Action Against Hunger

Dec 17 2018

Trained by Action Against Hunger, mothers in Somalia are sharing what they’ve learnt with their husbands – now both parents are screening their children for malnutrition, saving lives and time.

Gripped by recurring droughts, chronic food shortages, and over 20 years of nonstop conflict, Somalia was declared to be in a state of pre-famine in 2017. Conflict from armed groups and extremists is contributing to this widespread and dangerous food crisis, which is causing very high rates of malnutrition in children under five.  Emergency humanitarian assistance is still critical in many parts of the country, despite the fact that a number of regions are now under the control of Islamist militants, complicating the delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need.

Action Against Hunger Staff member measuring a child for stunting

One of Action Against Hunger’s top priorities in times of emergency is to provide life-saving treatment for severely malnourished children. In a programme known as Mother-Led MUAC, Action Against Hunger has teamed up with mothers to detect and diagnose malnourished children quicker.

With support from ECHO, Action Against Hunger has been piloting the new approach of teaching mothers to detect malnutrition using colour-coded Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tapes. Our staff in Somalia worked with 1,500 mothers to train them to spot malnutrition in their children early, before the condition worsens. When cases are found, children are referred to health facilities run by Action Against Hunger and our partners for treatment – the earlier a case is found, the easier it is for a malnourished child to recover.

When the project began, our teams started to notice that not just mothers, but fathers, too, were taking their children’s measurements to check for malnutrition.

“As fathers, it is our duty to know the health status of our children. I have four children under five years old, and I make it my responsibility to check all of them weekly basis,” says Abdullahi Omar, father of seven, as he proudly takes out his MUAC tape. He learned how to measure his children from his wife, Kafiyo Raage.

Kafiyo told us how her husband showed interest in the activity: “I shared with my husband what we learned during the training and he wanted to learn how to use the MUAC tape. I took him through the process and even demonstrated it to him using one of our children’s arms,” she says.

With more parents – both fathers and mothers – trained to spot malnutrition early and to take their children to health centres as soon as the illness is detected, Action Against Hunger’s nutrition teams have seen improvements throughout the communities in Elbarde.

“It has made our work easier, since parents take the lead in measuring their children, which helps them to quickly see the first signs of malnutrition,” says Abdirahman, an Action Against Hunger Community Health Worker. “More of them now walk to the Action Against Hunger Stabilisation Centre and bring their children for immediate treatment to avoid more serious cases of severe acute malnutrition.”

Khalid with his mother

Two weeks ago, during a routine check up on his children, Abdullahi noticed his one-year-old son Khalid’s arm measured in the yellow section of the MUAC band – indicating moderate acute malnutrition. He took Khalid to an Action Against Hunger centre, where staff members measured his son again and confirmed that he was indeed suffering from malnutrition. Khalid was immediately enrolled in Action Against Hunger’s outpatient therapeutic programme and is now receiving nutrition treatment on weekly basis.

“We are hoping to train more fathers in the community, as most of them are interested in being part of the solution in the fight against malnutrition. We are thankful for the support given to us by ECHO to facilitate the trainings on Mother-Led MUAC in Elbarde. I believe that when the whole community is involved, we are one step ahead in combating malnutrition,” says Abdirahman.

Read more about Action Against Hunger’s work with children affected by conflict and see how you can support families like those in Somalia through our children in conflict appeal this winter.


Images: Fardosa Hussein for Action Against Hunger