By Darious Magara & Jacky Achan
Domestic violence is ranking highly among the leading causes of malnutrition in children in Kisoro and other districts of western Uganda, hence becoming a prevalent social problem.
And according to Kisoro principal education officer Hope Habimana, poverty, ignorance and parents engaging in endless fights due to alcoholism is worsening the situation.
“We are lobbying the district authorities to enact bylaws restricting distribution and consumption of sachet waragi. Alcohol is ruining homes and affecting children’s health.”
Also the district nutrition focal person, Habimana says poverty-stricken families are always caught up in fights and pay no attention to their children who end up becoming malnourished and stunted.
She made the remarks during a meeting of Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovation in Nutrition Globally, for staff of SPRING-Uganda, an NGO funded by USAID in Kisoro.
Local children with serious malnutrition cases are fed on Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) – high-energy food supplements – with milk served by Kabale regional referral hospital.
But Emily Tindimwebwa, the nursing officer in charge of the pediatric ward at the hospital says some women who come to the health facility to nurse their malnourished children prefer to stay in the ward, fearing to return home because of the hostility there.
Parents unfamiliar with balancing diets for their children even when they can afford to provide food are being sensitized.
“They are being encouraged to plant vegetables around their homesteads to balance diets for their families. Also training from SPRING-Uganda and support materials has brought positive changes,” says Tindimwebwa.
Almost half of children aged five and below in Kisoro district are stunted, with 27% of these being severe cases.
Moses Mutabazi, the district nutritionist, says statistics released in August 2013 by the Nutrition Innovation Laboratory for Africa (NILA) from its baseline findings shocked the district officials to action.
NILA interviewed 3,630 households between October and December of 2012 in Agago, Dokolo, Lira, Kole and Kamwenge and Kisoro districts.
‘I had lost hope’
Malnutrition, if detected early, is treatable except for children who may be hurt in their first 100 days of life.
In western Uganda, SPRING-Uganda is working with Itojo, Ishaka Adventist and Kabale regional referral hospital training staff and hundreds of Village Health Team (VHT) members and peer educators to fight malnutrition.
Caroline Agambirwe, a nutritionist working with the SPRING-Uganda, said the training emphasized the need for mothers to carry out exclusive breastfeeding of their babies for six months.
Breast milk gives children special nutrients and boosts immunity.
She said that even mothers who have HIV/AIDS are encouraged to breastfeed their children. For adults, malnutrition was found to be prevalent among those living with HIV/AIDS.
Henriata Atuhaire, 43, who is living with HIV/AIDS, was weighing 35 kilograms before getting specialized assistance. She has since piled on nearly as much weight, now weighing 65kg.
“I had lost hope to life due to the stigma but after counseling and support I received from SPRING- Uganda I have become a VHT member who moves in the community to help the disadvantaged, ” she said. She hails from Ishaka.
Ishaka Adventist Hospital Nutrition focal person Pailene Atuhaire said from May 2012 to March 2015 they received 1,892 cases of malnutrition: 1,402 were cured and 54 died.
The hospital’s acting executive director Asaph Mwesigye says they are receiving several cases of malnutrition, some from far as DR Congo – Uganda’s neighbor in the west.
A nutrition expert who did not want to be name told New Vision that the best way to curb malnutrition is for government to support the agricultural sector so that communities can grow enough food for sale and feed their families.
Communities must also be sensitized to balance diet of their children and families, adds the expert.