DOREEN NAWA, Samfya
DESPITE being one of the best tourist attractions Zambia has, Samfya district probably has one of the highest malnutrition statistics in the country.
It only takes a trip to one of the villages to discover the dire situation that many children are living under as parents struggle to ensure they provide the much needed nutrients for the healthy growth of their infants.
According to nutritionists, children need about 40 nutrients to maintain normal health for without nutrients children become malnourished.
Civil Society Organisations Scaling up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN) estimates that about 300 children succumb and die due to malnutrition annually in Samfya district alone.
Sad as it may be, this is a reality as it is a legitimate part of the story of food insecurity in rural areas in Zambia.
Chief Mwansakombe of Chifunabuli constituency says, â€œI have seen first-hand the consequences of malnutrition in our communities. Every year, nearly 300 deaths of children can be traced to malnutrition in Samfya District. These are children who should grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow.â€
Chief Mwansakombe says communities lack knowledge on issues to do with nutrition.
â€œOur people are unaware of the problem of malnutrition and its solutions. We need to change the mind-set of our people in order to improve nutrition. Our women need to have basic knowledge about exclusive breastfeeding for six months after giving birth, the importance of varying diets and adequate water and sanitation practices.Â This knowledge will empower the community to demand for better nutrition,â€ he said.
The traditional leader has since urged Government to maximise coverage and access of nutrition programmes in order to benefit the rural populace.
Malnutrition is depriving families of the chance to get out of poverty. Young women, who are malnourished, grow up to have malnourished children thereby continuing this vicious cycle.
For Chief Mwansakombe, the solution requires combined efforts from the community.
â€œSome people feel that the responsibility of child nutrition is for the mother. This perception is ancient and redundant; and anyone with such attitude should be ex-communicated from our local communities. Fathers, who are responsible and love their children, should take keen interest in the nutrition of their children at all times,â€ he said.
The traditional leader said parents should work to ensure their children are well fed on a daily basis.
With an estimated 87 percent of the population in Samfya being rural farmers, implementing practical and sustainable rural empowerment initiatives like knowledge sharing should be an urgent point in finding the answer to ending malnutrition.
While policy can have a positive influence, there is need to support practical and sustainable rural empowerment initiatives like knowledge sharing as the first step on the long road to establishing sustainable nutrition in Samfya district and other parts of the country.
For CSO-SUN country coordinator William Chilufya two salient efforts that can be used to sustainably address the above nutrition challenges are an approach that empowers families and communities to sustainably improve nutrition and make prevention and treatment of malnutrition possible within the community.
â€œWe need the togetherness kind of approach in order to address malnutrition in various rural areas countrywide. We need to put up initiatives that will empower communities to learn to recognise malnutrition cases and treat them with supervised supplemental feedings of locally available, nutrient-dense foods,â€ Mr Chilufya said.
For Mr Chilufya, this approach strengthens the delivery of quality nutrition services to children below five years, pregnant and lactating women by promoting their use at both facility and community levels.
It increases support to prevention, case-finding, treatment and rehabilitation of malnutrition among women of reproductive age and their children at community and facility levels. This contributes to a reduction in maternal, child malnutrition and mortality.
And Esnart Mutale, a resident in Kasuba community in Chief Mwansakombeâ€™s area and also a mother of five says a community involvement approach to addressing malnutrition is appropriate in Samfya since most health facilities are not adequately equipped with supplies and trained staff to treat malnutrition.
Mrs Mutale says with limited facilities to provide nutrition services and inadequate referral systems, parents with malnourished children have to trek longer distances to receive services.
â€œMost families lack means to support numerous trips to a health centres, nor can we afford the costs of being away from our home for the long periods of time required to treat malnutrition in a health centre,â€ Mrs Mutale said.
Nutrition education in Zambia is low. While the Ministry of Health tries to inform and educate mothers on good nutrition, this seems to be restricted to pregnant women who attend antenatal clinics.
Time allocated for nutrition education when women go for antenatal is too limited to provide adequate information to the women.
Compounding the problem further is the fact some pregnant women with low formal education cannot comprehend nutritional technical issues as they affect the childâ€™s physical and mental growth.
Those with low formal education levels also tend to ignore formal and technical information they are provided with at such forums.
If mothers are to benefit from the nutrition knowledge offered in health facilities thereâ€™s need for more time and use of simple, local language. They also need nutrition education campaigns not only when they are pregnant but also at any time in their lives.
Nutrition education can include information on optimal infant and child-feeding and care practices, advice on hygiene and sanitation, and the prevention of illness, and psycho-social support.
DOREEN NAWA, Samfya