The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Malnutrition Has Greatly Reduced, Says MoH Official

interview

The governmnent has been running several programmes to promote nutrition in the country.

It is hoped that if the populace observe proper feeding pattern, it will greatly enhance not only health but also human capitcal for economic prosperity.

Ivan Ngoboka caught up with Alexis Mucumbitsi, of the nutrition department at the Ministry of Health to get the status of nutrition in the country. Excerpts;-

Briefly tell us about the '1,000 Days' anti-malnutrition campaign?

The 1,000 Days campaign is a three-year national initiative that started in September last year, seeking to improve feeding among children under five years, pregnant and lactating mothers, as well as schoolgoing children, to reduce morbidity and mortality related to malnutrition.

And since fighting malnutrition is a complex issue, various ministries are involved. For instance, the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Education, Local Government, Gender and Family Promotion, among others.

The first phase that took three months mainly looked at sensitisation of the masses about the programme.

The second phase of the programme will end next month, could you precisely give us its overview.

The second phase aimed at re-orientation and evaluating the previous phase, and I can tell you that in the nine districts we have so far visited countrywide, we were impressed, it showed that our mobilisation campaigns have taken effect. People have started initiatives like akagoroba k'ababyeyi (parents' evening) where residents meet to tackle issues affecting their society like malnutrition.

They also tackle poor hygiene and sanitation, which are related to malnutrition.

Residents have also introduced projects such as kitchen gardening, village kitchen and cell garden, among others.

In March alone, 91 per cent of children under five and women who had freshly given birth got vitamin A drugs, while 94 per cent of children in the same age bracket got deworming drugs. Other nutrition suppliments given out included zinc, iron and folic acid.

What is the current state of malnutrition in the country?

Malnutrition has steadily been reducing over the years. In 2010, acute malnutrition stood at 3 per ent, but as of April 2014, it had gone down to 0.8 per cent, which we consider a huge success. It's only stunted growth we still consider a problem, standing at 44 per cent for children under five, according to the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, way above the World Health Organisation's minimum target of 20 per cent.

I thought malnutrition and stunted growth are inter-related, how come the other reduced and one did not?

Perhaps it's just that we are using old statistics about stunted growth, since this survey is only carried out once in five years.

What challenges are you facing in the fight against malnutrition?

Cultural chauvinism. Some men still think emphasising nutrition issues in a family is a responsibility of only a woman, so you find that perhaps the campaign has not succeeded because some one did not play their role.

The other obstacle is that some homes have not embraced family planning; you find a home with way too many children they cannot feed adequately.

Some families also still have poor hygiene, so however much they try to practice proper nutrition, it doesn't help because they are still dogged by other ailments.

The 2010 Demographic and Health Survey showed Gakenke and Rutsiro districts with the worst cases of stunted growth, standing at 63.1 per cent and 60.3 per cent, respectively. Is special attention being given to them?

We discovered that people in these two districts do not only have limited knowledge on nutrition but also have high cases of malaria and worms, both of which contribute to stunted growth.

We do not only give out items like mosquito nets and deworming tablets, but also allocated them to organisations such as Rwanda Family Project, World Vision, and One-UN Rwanda, which has huge anti-malnutrition programmes.

Is the cause of malnutrition general lack of food or not knowing which foods to feed on?

The interesting thing is that 80 per cent of the population that suffers from malnutrition is food secure, that's why Musanze and Rubavu districts have high cases of malnutrition yet they are the country's food baskets. The majority of the people have enough food but just don't know what to feed on.

The third phase is almost a month away, what is it comprised of?

This phase that will take about 26 months has many components, including focus on mobilising parents to help them understand that their stake in fighting malnutrition is crucial. The other is ensuring that every school has special lessons on nutrition, besides introducing a demonstration garden and livestock farm, and this will be possible in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.

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