CHRISTINE CHISHA, Mumbwa
IN THE heat of the midday sun on a busy rural health centre in Nakasaka ward of Mumbwa district, a young mother breastfeeds her nine-month-old son. She knows it is the optimal source of nutrition for the child.
Beaming with a smile on her face she shares how she overcame breastfeeding myths to ensure her son is healthy.
â€œWhen I think back on my breastfeeding journey with my son, Jones, I think of the most incredible experience of my life. I was extremely blessed to not have had any real problems during the six months I exclusively breastfed him,â€ said Thandiwe Kapange.
She said since the day she discovered she was pregnant she knew she wanted to breastfeed despite having little information.
Ms Kapange said her friend in the village told her about a committee that was giving out information on how pregnant and lactating mothers could stay healthy during pregnancy and care for the children once they give birth.
She said she shared the idea of attending a ward meeting to learn more about pregnancy with her husband and her grandmother who opposed the idea.
â€œMy husband warned me of not contaminating my unborn child with western culture while my grandmother believed the group teaching on nutrition was a group of Satanists who want to steal pregnancies,â€ Ms Kapange narrated.
She, however, defied her husbandâ€™s belief and grandmother to attend a Ward Nutrition Co-ordinating Committee (WNCC) meeting.
Ms Kapange said, â€œWe were taught how we should ensure that as pregnant mothersâ€™ we know our HIV status, eat well different foods such as vegetables, fruits, meat and take iron, folic and deworming tabletsâ€.
She said the WNCC also insisted that every pregnant woman should sleep under an insecticide treated net to prevent malaria and take malaria tablets.
Ms Kapange said during the second meeting, they were taught to breastfeed the baby immediately after birth and give only breast milk for six months.
â€œThe lessons I learnt about exclusively breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding up to two years or beyond and increase amount of food and variety as the child grows, it has helped my child to be healthy,â€ she said.
While Ms Kapange is beaming with a smile about her health baby, WNCC member Judith Mwikuta is concerned with overlooked needs such as waterborne diseases due to lack of access to clean and safe water coupled with erratic supply of drugs at rural health centres.
â€œLack of access to clean and safe drinking water is a huge setback in nutrition gains in this area. People drink water from shallow wells, the same wells that animals drink from,â€ She said.
Mrs Mwikuta said community members are appreciating the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) programme under the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC) which is promoting good nutrition, prevent infections and stunting only challenges of water is a setback.
She said if local authorities can work on improving access to clean and safe drinking water by putting up boreholes, distribute chlorine for water treatment, the story of nutrition will be a success in Mumbwa.
Mrs Mwikuta also called for improvement of diarrhoea drugs to rural health centres in the district.
Her sentiments were echoed by Nakasaka ward WNCC chairperson Hector Chiputa who said diarrhoea cases in the area are high due to lack of safe and clean drinking water.
Mr Chiputa said mothers are worried because whenever they visit health centres, they are only given the Oral Rehydration Solution and told that Zinc sulphate has run out.
Zinc sulphate supplementation is a critical new intervention for treating diarrheal episodes in children.
Recent studies suggest that administration of zinc along with new low osmolarity oral rehydration solutions / salts (ORS), can reduce the duration and severity of diarrheal episodes for up to three months.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommend daily 20 mg zinc supplements for 10 â€“ 14 days for children with acute diarrhoea, and 10 mg per day for infants under six months old, to curtail the severity of the episode and prevent further occurrences in the ensuing -two to three months, thereby decreasing the morbidity considerably.
And Mr Chiputa said was happy that all the myths have been tackled concerning the nutrition programme after people realised that the SUN programme was meant to benefit them not false rumours that were going round that it was an evil programme.
â€œWe have people here in Nakasaka ward yearning for information, asking for leaflets and more training on how best they can care for pregnant and lactating mothers.
â€œWhat is more encouraging is men and youth involvement to ensure that women, children and themselves to have proper nutrition,â€ he said.
Mr Chiputa said with the community involvement, he was hopeful that Mumbwa will in the next year not be among the 14 districts with high malnutrition and stunting levels.
Mumbwa is among the 14 district with high stunting and malnutrition levels in the country. According to the NFNC, in Zambia, chronic malnutrition stands at 40 percent.
The causes are many. They include, but are not limited to poverty, urban rural inequality, gender inequalities poor diet diversity, chronic food insecurity, low quality of foods, and poor hygiene, water and sanitation.
In response to this, SUN, a global movement was formed to help countries fight the scourge and Zambia was among the â€˜early risersâ€™ to adopt and implement the programme, focusing on the reduction of stunting.
The Provinces work through committees while the districts work through District Nutrition Co-ordinating Committees (DNCCS).
And Mumbwa DNCC Support Co-ordinator John Madalitso said a lot of progress has been to promote nutrition in the district but lack of access was an enormous setback.
He said community members have a challenge where to get water and end up sharing water from the shallow wells with animals.
However, Mumbwa Council Secretary Namukolo Kalufyanya gave hope to the residents and assured them that water will be tackled soon.
She said together with co-operating partners such as World Vision , Ministry of Local government and Housing and Climate Resilient programme, boreholes will be drill in the wards in the district.
Ms Kalufyanya said for World Vision, they will drill 30 boreholes before the end of 2015 and will drill 100 boreholes next year.
She said for Ministry of Local Government and Housing, the contractors will soon move on site and Nakasaka ward will benefit two boreholes.
Ms Kalufyanya said, Government is committed to ensure that Mumbwa residents have access to clean and safe drinking water.
With Government tackling access to clean and safe drinking water, Mumbwa residentâ€™s commitment to the first 1,000 critical days SUN programme will help strengthen the well-being of families and communities. In the process, Mumbwa children will gain the chance for a healthier future.
CHRISTINE CHISHA, Mumbwa