2 February 2016

Sierra Leone: Moms and Their Babies Are Returning to the Health Centres

Francis Boima — Use of basic health services drastically reduced at the height of the Ebola outbreak. The population was hesitant to approach the health centres due to fears of either contacting Ebola or being labelled as someone affected by it. Getting mothers and children back to the health centres to access critical maternal and child health services has been challenging.

In partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone, The World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) to increase uptake of services. Through the treatment of moderate acute malnutrition in children aged 6-59 months and pregnant and nursing mothers at Peripheral Health Units (PHUs), WFP is also helping to improve the nutrition status of vulnerable groups, reaching more than 43,000 children and mothers across the country.

Twenty-year-old Mariatu Kargbo is a mother of three children. She has come to the Sierra Leone Church Health Centre in Port Loko district, in the northern part of the country. Here she receives food assistance and maternal and child health services for herself and her 8-month-old child, Ibrahim.

Mariatu Kargbo benefits from free health care services, including food for her malnourished child at a WFP-supported supplementary feeding centre. Francis Boima/WFP

A nightmare called Ebola

Just a few months ago, while Ebola was still terrorising the people of Sierra Leone, this centre, like most others in the country, was abandoned by mothers. "The women here did not come to the health centre because they were afraid that if they took their children [there], they will get Ebola," said Ernestine Wilson, the nurse in charge.

"Now the mothers are no longer afraid to come to the health centre to access services and to receive food," she adds. "The food attracts them to come to the centres and every mother wants her child, malnourished or not, to be in the programme."

"The food attracts them to come to the centres and every mother wants her child, malnourished or not, to be in the programme."

Like many mothers, Mariatu carries the responsibility for caring for her three children all by herself. Support from programmes like these is vital for ensuring the health of Mariatu and her children.

With limited resources derived from selling cooked food in her community, Kargbo admits that before, she did not have enough food for Ibrahim. As a result, he became severely malnourished and sick at the age of 6 months.

After a month of treatment through the health centre's Outpatient Therapeutic Programme, he was enrolled in the centre's WFP-supported targeted supplementary feeding programme, designed to provide continued support for children and mothers with moderate acute malnutrition.

Through this programme, children like Ibrahim receive rations of SuperCereal Plus, a fortified blended food enriched with micronutrients and specifically designed to meet the nutrition needs of moderately malnourished children.

"Ibrahim likes the food and it has helped him to gain weight and to be strong," Kargbo proudly recalls. "I feel happy when I receive assistance from WFP, especially as I have no one else to support my children."

The Sierra Leone Church Health Centre is one of 106 PHUs in Port Loko District where supplementary feeding programmes are being provided by WFP thanks to funding from the Government of Japan. Like many of these centres, Sierra Leone Church Health Centre provides health and nutrition education in addition to vaccination, deworming, growth monitoring and supplementary feeding activities.

More than 26,000 children and about 17,000 mothers are benefiting from the supplementary feeding programme in five districts of Sierra Leone with the highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. The programme is vital to reducing undernutrition and attracting mothers to health centres again. At the same time, enriched foods provide vulnerable children the nutrients they need to thrive, helping to curb the inter-generational cycle of hunger.

To find out more about how WFP and its partners tackle malnutrition in Sierra Leone, click here.

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