By GEORGE BITA
New Vision will, until October 3, publish articles on individuals and organisations that have dedicated their efforts to fighting malnutrition in the country a problem that affects up to 54% of children under 18 in Uganda
.Several babies at varying stages of development occupy the spacious compound at CMS village in Iganga district. Some of the children stagger about in a desperate bid to take their first steps. Others simply crawl or just sit and stare at passersby. Occasionally, the caretaker mothers pick up a couple of childrens to feed them in the numerous shelters.
These 35 vulnerable children being taken care of at Iganga Babies’ Home are abandoned toddlers; left by the roadsides or in dustbins by their parents at a very tender age. Sr. Eva Msuya, a Tanzanian nun and the in-charge of the facility, explains
that many of the babies are brought in by the Police when they are malnourished.
Msuya attributes child malnutrition to insufficient access to food, inadequate maternal care, improper sanitation and incompetent health services. “The ones in bad shape with swollen tummies, scaly skin and scanty hair are put on special diet right away. They are fed eight times a day,” Msuya, a member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis, narrates. “My mission as a missionary is to ensure the betterment of the lives of these underprivileged children. They need proper nutrition to grow up like any other child,” she says.
According to her, the special meal includes millet porridge mixed with silver fish (mukene) as well as groundnut paste, fruits, meat and eggs. “From our farm we get two litres of goat’s milk, which we dilute with safe water to make four litres as it is very concentrated. Goat’s milk is highly nutritious,” she explains. Also grown on the farm are cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, bananas and pawpaws to ensure that the children get a balanced diet.
Dr. Rosette Kyohikira, a nutritionist, explains that goat’s milk has a significant quantity of colostrum-like substance, making it similar to breast milk. “The colostrum or first yellowish milk from breasts helps to improve the body’s immune system. This lessens disease occurrence in children,” Kyohikira says. Needless to say, breastfeeding is the best way to meet the nutritional needs in infants. Exclusive breastfeeding limits exposure to virulent microorganisms and reduces the baby’s risk of infection
Nangobi, a caretaker, and some of the babies at the home
Many babies are not breastfed in the first hour after birth
According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), 2012, in Uganda only 52% of new-borns are breastfed in the first hour of life. Consequently, a large number of babies do not get the disease-protective benefits of colostrum. The cost of malnutrition in Uganda in terms of lives lost is huge. At least 360 infants reportedly die daily in Uganda and nutrition interventions can save approximately 120 babies per day
Views from Iganga Babies’ Home
The toddlers are put on special diet
Penina Nangobi, a caretaker mother of the abandoned children, says “Since we often get one or two-day old babies here and they have no mothers, we give them goat’s milk until they are six months old.” She adds that in the past, they would use substitutes like formula, but of late they have switched to goat’s milk.
Sr. Msuya commends friends and well-wishers who donate to the Iganga Babies Home for the support. “We depend on charity and are indebted to Kakira Sugar Works Ltd that provides a sack of sugar, rice, cooking oil and a carton of soap on a monthly basis. This helps us feed and clean the children well,” she says. Sr. Msuya explains that the babies often become anaemic, develop fever or diarrhoea and they require medical attention.
The Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) 2009/2010 shows that in 2009 over 1.6 million clinical attendances associated with undernutrition of under five-year-old infants cost about sh525b. Similarly, about 943 million hours were lost in the same year because of absenteeism as a result of nutritionrelated illnesses and mortalities.
In monetary terms, it represents sh657b or 2.1% of the Gross Domestic Product. Kyohikira affirms that the majority of ailments in toddlers below five years can be avoided by provision of a balanced diet. She identifies a balanced diet as that which offers all the basic components necessary for normal growth like proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, mineral salts and fats. About Sr. Msuya Msuya was born in Sae Catholic Diocese, Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania to Edward Msuya and Clare Mrutu.
After completing her A’ level studies she enrolled for a four-year religious training course at Changale Seminary. In 2004, she was sent to Uganda as a missionary of the Little Sisters of St. Francis and she became an administrator of Iganga Babies Home. “God deserves credit for the proper feeding of these children as he is the main driving force behind all this. Can we do any better if the Almighty decided otherwise?” Msuya asks. She has tried and her deeds speak volumes. However, it remains an uphill task as Msuya must be assured of sustainable charity to accomplish her mission of feeding the needy babies