As part of its annual series, Ugandans Making a Difference, New Vision will, until October 3, publish articles on individuals and organisations that have dedicated their efforts to fighting malnutrition in the country. The articles will highlight the causes, discuss solutions and recognise the efforts of those working to avert the problem that is affecting a big part of our population
By Joseph Ssemutooke
One-and-a half years ago, Namukose Base, was alarmed when her 18-month-old baby developed a leatheryyellow skin, which peeled off everyday. Like a typical rural woman, she tried to address her baby’s illness by giving her herbs. Namukose, a resident of Butansi in Butansi sub-county, Kamuli district visited a nearby shrine to seek the intervention of the gods in case the problem was spiritual.
As Namukose fidgeted and fretted, Petra Biryeri, a village health team member, visited her. Biryeri is known throughout the sub-county for giving women in Butansi advice on health issues. Upon her visit, Biryeri weighed Namukose’s daughter and did a general checkup of her body only to discover the baby was malnourished. Biryeri took Namukose and her daughter to Kamuli District Hospital the following day and the medical workers confirmed the child’s complications were due to poor nutrition
The child was treated, given food supplements and sent back home. Biryeri trained Namukose how to feed her child well. Namukose is one of several women in Kamuli district, who have testimonies of having been helped by health workers like Biryeri to treat malnutrition in their children.
However, several other women readily testify how they have been helped by peers like Biryeri to improve nutrition in families. It is important to note that in Kamuli, two thirds of children under five years suffer from the effects of poor nutrition according to a rapid study last year by Plan– Uganda, a non governmental organisation. Poor nutrition is especially pointed out by education authorities among school-going children as the cause of poor performance and absenteeism, among others.
Kamuli residents gather at Kamuli District Hospital where they get nutrional advise
The village health teams
Biryeri is one of the village health teams personnel in Kamuli district who have been empowered by Plan-Uganda to help improve the health of their fellow residents. village health teams (VHTs) are groups of volunteers set up by the district health departments throughout Uganda, to help the district health system reach down to the grass-root communities by complementing the health workers by identifying and referring cases in the villages, as well as offering advice. It is members of these Government-engineered VHTs that Plan-Uganda trains and facilitates to complement the Government’s health workers in health service delivery at the grass-roots.
Kaamu Cissy, the project coordinator Plan–Uganda’s nutrition projects says, “Our efforts to address malnutrition resulted from our experience in the course of our campaign for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT). While we were campaigning PMTCT, we realised that poor nutrition in the district undermined so many of the medical efforts to treat illnesses.
So we decided to add it to HIV/AIDS as the two illnesses for which we directly make special intervention.” Kaamu further explains that upon deciding to address malnutrition directly, they had to choose members of VHT, who they could empower to primarily tackle malnutrition issues in their communities.
That is how they came up with five members in four subcounties of Kamuli district’s where Plan-Uganda has been operating since 2009. Plan trained the women how to address malnutrition cases in their communities, gave them advice on nutrition and report cases to health workers.
Plan also facilitates its members in the fight against malnutrition.
Biryeri (red tshirt) with Namukose and her daughter
Dr. Tina Nakiganda, the District Health Officer of Kamuli district, says the key feature of Plan’s intervention to fight malnutrition has been the provision of advisory services to the locals about proper nutrition.
She says Plan has specifically advised the locals on how to utilise locally available foods to achieve proper nutrition. She is grateful to the organisation for taking the luggage off the district’s health service. “It is not that people here lack food, because almost all people in the district do some farming or at least can buy some food,” says Dr. Nakiganda.
“The problem has largely been lack of knowledge on how to eat a balanced diet. People also lack knowledge on what groups of people need special diet such as children, breast-feeding mothers and people living with HIV/AIDS. Kaamu says as Plan they have advised the people how to achieve proper diets, how to mix the available foods, what foods they should endeavour to give these vulnerable groups.
She says they have given and continue to give their advice primarily through the VHTs whom they have trained to go spreading the gospel in their communities. Kaamu adds that they also engage several other means to spread the nutrition gospel, such as holding regular talk shows on local radio stations, supplying literature to the locals and organise nutrition outreaches in different parts of the district. During such outreaches they use methods like presenting educative dramas.
Plan-Uganda’s Oyita says under its plan for 2014-2018 the NGO has already resolved to spread its services beyond the four sub-counties where it has been operating, to cover the whole of Kamuli district. He says nutrition in particular is going to see more efforts, because the organisation is introducing a new project called Strengthening Community .Responsibility to Promote Early Childhood Survival (SCORPES), which will have nutrition as one of the core areas
Do you know any individual or organisation focusing efforts on improving nutrition in communities? Write to the Features Editor, P.O. Box 9815 Kampala or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org giving name, telephone contact of nominee and reasons for nomination. Type food, the nominee’s name and SMS to 8338