Johannesburg — Most often in Africa, the smaller the village and remote it is the more it is synonymous with poverty and malnutrition. This is not the case with the small village of Rondo, south eastern Tanzania where women in that community have simply refused to watch their children die or suffer from stunting due to malnutrition by educating their communities to adopt a healthy eating lifestyle. They walk up to seven kilometres conducting door-to-door calls on families or giving talks at health centres where women usually congregate. These 6 women are undertaking these life changing activities in addition to their demanding daily chores which include tilling the land, fetching firewood, preparing food for their families and taking care of their children.
Scholastica Nguli, who is the founder of the Rondo Women's Development Organisation, has been leading the women.
She says: "This idea began after joining the Partnership for Nutrition in Tanzania (PANITA) where our organization was invited to a capacity building meeting organized PANITA in 2013; the emphasis of that meeting was on maternal and young children feeding practices. At the end of the session; PANITA called upon participants of the meeting to cascade that knowledge to the community in their respective locations."
"Lack of awareness on breastfeeding issues was among of the factor behind huge burden of children malnutrition in Rondo ward, that's why we decided to spread that knowledge to health facilities, household visits and public meetings", she adds.
Graca Machel Trust promotes good nutrition and works closely with PANITA, a network of 300 Civil society organizations. Good nutrition fforms the bedrock of an educated, healthy and productive society. In Africa, lasting effects on the cognitive and physical development of the African child and their families has led to the stunted development of societies. To ensure that nutrition is placed high on the agenda - to ultimately end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture in Africa, the Nutrition Programme engages in advocacy for nutrition as a developmental priority.
World Health Day As we celebrate World Health Day the women of Rondo are a reminder that fighting malnutrition which causes stunting in children in most parts of the country can be done by anyone. According to the Tanzania Demographic and health survey 2015-16, 34% of children under the age of five are short for their age (stunted), a sign of chronic malnutrition. Stunting result to severe consequences on the physical and brain development of the child and affects the economy due to loss of productivity. According to the World Bank, Africa can gain up to 10% of the GDP if we invested in nutrition. It says for every dollar invested in ending malnutrition, 10 dollars can be earned in return.
The women of Rondo have become an epitome of doing what is right at a time when most societies wait for governments to fight malnutrition alone. Often, many societies visualise malnutrition as too big a problem that they think there is nothing they can do to change it. Yet the action by Rondo women demonstrate that there are solutions within the reach of communities to end malnutrition.
All interventions count; from breastfeeding, washing hands before eating food, keeping a clean environment, drinking clean safe water. There is no one specific approach but communities have to adopt approaches that best help them to accomplish significant change. The example of Rondo show that collective strategies have a great impact to ending malnutrition in our communities.
Their work fits perfectly with this year's World Health Day theme, Universal Health Coverage (UHC) which simply is not about health care and financing the health system of a country only but encompasses all components of the health systems. These can be healthcare providers that deliver health services to people, health facilities communications networks, health technologies, information systems, quality assurance mechanisms to governance and legislation and individual efforts to ensure that communities live healthy.
This does not mean that governments can take a back seat. They still have leading roles to ensure the pledges they agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 to advance health for all and end all forms of malnutrition by 2030 are implemented. Both communities and governments need to ensure that current and future generations live to their full potential. Let this World Health Day be a cue that taking responsibility is the only way to ending all forms of malnutrition in Africa.
Christine Muyama is Nutrition Programmes Officer at the Graça Machel Trust