Expanded Nutrition Programme Improves Health of Afghan Women and Children

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Medair treated nearly 5,000 malnourished children and pregnant or breastfeeding women in 2011. In 2010, 191,000 Afghan children under five died (1). That’s a startling statistic—equivalent to more than 500 children dying every single day. Acute malnutrition was a leading contributor.

Malnutrition is especially common in children who live in isolated, mountainous villages in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, where the growing season is short, the winters are long, and harvests are unreliable. During the winter months, many of the small villages scattered throughout the districts of Yawan, Raghistan, and Kohistan are cut off completely by heavy snow.

In 2010, Medair began a nutrition programme in the remote and impoverished district of Raghistan which treated more than 2,000 malnourished children and pregnant women, saving many lives.

In 2011, Medair expanded its nutrition project into the districts of Yawan and Kohistan. Medair’s community mobilisers visited villages across the three districts, urging families to bring their malnourished children and pregnant or breastfeeding women to one of four Medair-supported clinics. At the clinics, beneficiaries were given nutrient-rich food and were closely monitored on each subsequent visit to ensure their health improved.

Within just two weeks of opening its doors this spring, staff at the Medair-supported clinic in Yawan village had screened more than 400 people, and admitted more than 200 malnourished children and women into the nutrition programme.

Fardin’s Recovery One of those children was Fardin, son of Danial. Like many households in remote Badakhshan province, Danial and his family had endured a difficult winter. During the long, cold months that mark the beginning of the year, his family had survived on a meagre diet that was barely enough to sustain them. “We just lived on a little wheat,” said Danial. “We could not eat anything but bread.”

The winter was particularly hard on little Fardin, Danial’s youngest son. “He was breastfed for six months,” said Danial. “But we then gave him bread and animal milk, and he was not willing to eat them. He became malnourished. He suffered from a high fever and his feet were as thin as a finger. His skin was tight against his bones.”

Having heard of the success of Medair’s nutrition programme in the neighbouring district of Raghistan, Danial eagerly brought Fardin in to be assessed by the Medair team, and enrolled him in the programme. “We have a lot of confidence in Medair because we had heard last year about the work they were doing in other districts,” he said. “We know they are offering good care for the people.”

Nearly a month into his admission into the programnme, Fardin’s health had dramatically improved. Now a healthily plump boy, he happily slurped on a package of therapeutic food as his father held him proudly.

“Unbelievable! He has made a lot of improvement,” said Danial with a grateful smile. “At first he was indifferent to everything around him. But now he is curious again and looks around. We give much honour to Medair because they are here. My child was about to die, but now Medair has helped us and we are so grateful to have them here.” Between April and October 2011, Medair treated 576 children under five for severe acute malnutrition, and provided 1,432 moderately malnourished children and 2,886 pregnant and breastfeeding women with nutrient-rich food. However, over half of the population of this remote, mountainous area live more than a day’s return trip away from health facilities, making regular attendance a challenge.

Recognising that malnutrition will remain a critical problem unless communities take responsibility for improving their own well-being, Medair recruited and trained 545 volunteers to teach families and villages about better nutrition. Their aim was to reach 5,133 households—as many as 35,930 people—with information about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, nutrition during pregnancy and lactation, good hygiene practices, and how to care for sick children.

“You only need to look at the faces of the people here to see that there is a big problem with malnutrition,” said Gharib Nawaz, the Governor of Kohistan, at the opening of the Paspul clinic in June. “I am 100 percent positive about the opening of this nutrition clinic. Foreign NGOs are not interested in working in these parts. We are thankful for Medair, that despite the difficulties involved in working in this place, they come here to help us.”