By Andrew Masinde
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
Raymond Okello lost his mother when he was one-and-half years old. He started falling sick, could not play, developed a distended stomach, brown and scanty hair, and swollen cheeks. His condition worried his father who thought of taking him to Mulago Hospital for medical help. “However, just as I was preparing to go to Mulago, a neighbour advised me to give him supplements from Alpha Health Nutrition-Uganda.
I bought enkejje (pounded fish) mixed with groundnuts and peanut paste. I was instructed to feed him at least three times a day together with other foodstuffs,” Robert Okiror, Okello’s father says. Okiror adds that within six weeks, the change was visible. His son had regained his normal weight and started playing with his friends. His stomach had gone back to normal and the hair turned black.
He deferred the idea of taking the boy to Mulago and instead went to Alpha shop. He was taught how to mix the products in proper propotions and what kind of locallyavailable foodstuffs to incorporate in the child’s diet and his son is now healthy. Simon Omara, the chairperson of Alpha says that Alpha, started as a response to counter the widespread problem of child malnutrition that hit the eastern and northern parts of the country when the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels attacked Teso and Lango sub-regions.
Many people were left homeless and moved to camps where they did not have enough to eat. As a result, many children suffered from malnutrition. “I organised a group of youth to form an organisation to fight malnutrition in the camps. The group started mobilising homes that had stored some foods such as groundnuts, sesame and millet and teaching them how to prepare the foods,” Omara says.
The group then started buying the food from the people and processing food supplements for malnourished children and adults. . They came up with four products; peanut, a mixture of groundnut and sesame, pure natural honey, shea nut and pounded fish.
They then embarked on a door-todoor sensitisation campaign to teach the people the value of their products. “There was no need for screening as the level malnutrition was visible in every homestead. We started by giving them free products and those who realised the benefits bought the products,” Omara says.
Need for intervention
Policy makers and all stakeholders need to join Alpha to free Uganda of malnutrition. The Government should encourage people to use locally available foods to meet their nutritional needs. Many people have food; what they lack is information on what kind of food, and when and how to prepare it.
Currently, the population is grappling with high case of diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections as a result of malnutrition, with 360 children below five years dying daily. Nutrition interventions such as this one could save at least 120 children every day.
The company starts operating in camps
‘We thought our children had been bewitched"
As in many African societies, people in the camps whose children suffered malnutrition children believed they were bewitched. Alpha took the initiative of advising them to take the children to hospitals, however, changing their mind-set was not easy and their ideas met a lot of resistance. Gradually, people started appreciating the advice and help they were getting. “In 2004 it was estimated that over 75% of the children in the camps were malnourished, so teaching people to take the children to hospital helped a lot and after discovering what was wrong we advised them to use our products and their lives largely improved,” Omara explains.
He adds that after the LRA war, they had to come back to the villages, but there were no houses as they had all been burnt by the rebels. “Feeding the children became a problem and they started falling sick,” he says. “It was around this time that people from Alpha came to our village and advised us to take the children to hospital. I had no money to buy food so I decided to go back to the camp. I bought a few Alpha products and tried them out. After a few weeks, I realised a great change in the lives of my children.
Today my children are healthy and back in school,” Josephine Acan from Oloo village, Alebtong district, says. “We produce and process groundnuts using locally-available machines. The processed groundnuts can be stored for one year and above. This enables the people to access it even during the time of scarcity like the planting season when groundnuts and simsim are scarce and, therefore, expensive,” Omara explains.
Alpha peanut butter
Alpha also educates, counsels and sensitises the community on how to embrace nutritious foods to fight malnutrition especially for children from poor families. The organisation holds nutrition workshops where they educate parents the value of particular foods, preparation, feeding and storage methods. Alpha teaches people how to make these products themselves without the need for technical personnel.
Alpha also employs youth, elderly women and men from the north in the areas of production, marketing and sales where they earn a living and so addresses unemployment problem. We also conduct nutrition sessions in schools and health centres in rural areas, especially those badly hit by famine such as Karamoja.
Alpha also supports people living with HIV/AIDS by giving them free products to boost their health,” Nicholas Ojok, the secretary, says. The mixture of enkejje and groundnuts is a good source of protein, calcium and other micro-minerals like iron, zinc.
It is improves the nutrition status of children and adults, especially in low-income communities.
The organisation teaches communities how to preserve food without using chemicals. “We encouraged people to go back to their old culture of storing food in granaries. This has improved food security in many rural areas. “The communities also learn to grow food. Though many are still in camps, some have land so we encourage them to grow food, feed their families, store some for the future and sell some to get income,” he adds.
“My child was sickly and I had already spent a lot of money and time hopping from one herbalist to another without any improvement. When Alpha opened an office in Gulu, a friend advised me to buy their products that they would heal my child.
“They gave me free samples to go and try out their products. Within two weeks, my child had gained energy. I was encouraged to go back and buy more and the child who, at three-andhalf years weighed only 4kg started gaining weight,” says Margaret Aciro from Minakulu,Gulu district “I was also advised to visit the hospital instead of wasting money on traditional healers. My child’s life health was restored, thanks to Alpha.
Today I make my own products at home. I also know how to prepare the foods which I harvest from my garden. I sell some to Alpha to get money to meet the
family needs,” she adds.