The government has kick started a massive campaign against poor feeding among children in order to boost cognitive, physical and socio emotional development of children.
The campaign targets 13 districts with the highest rate of stunted growth among children under the age of 2 years. The campaign is the latest among efforts by the government to eradicate malnutrition.
The targeted districts are Nyabihu, Ngororero, Karongi, Rubavu, Rutsiro and Rusizi in the Western Province.
They also include Nyamagabe, Huye, Nyaruguru and Ruhango in the Southern province and Gakenke in the North as well as Kayonza and Bugesera in the East.
Launched on the October 4 in Ruli sector, Gakenke District-- the campaign is part of the wider strategy to reduce stunted growth among children from the current 38 per cent countrywide to 19 per cent by 2024.
The campaign is being implemented by the Ministry for Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) through the National Early Childhood Development Program (NECDP) in conjunction with the Minister of Health.
They aim to sensitise parent and members of the communities on good feeding practices for infant and children as well as making good use of health services for better health.
NECDP together with its stakeholders will organise holistic mass mobilisation across the country targeting parents, community volunteers and leaders to increase their knowledge on good practices.
In addition, they will also initiate practices for behaviour change in regards to eradicating malnutrition and stunting among young children.
The campaign also seeks to raise awareness on good practices on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) to prevent and reduce diseases related to poor hygiene.
Furthermore, parents and members of communities will be sensitised on positive parenting and importance of family planning.
NECPD also wants to raise awareness on the inclusiveness of children with disabilities as well as other with special needs in the promotion of early learning
Dr Anita Asiimwe, the Coordinator of NECDP, said that the main causes of stunting in children are poverty, poor breastfeeding, parents who don't know how to prepare proper diets.
She added that stunting is also caused by unplanned births, family conflicts and lack of cooperation between married couples among others.
She advises parents to carryout regular check-ups by taking their children for growth monitoring and attending "village kitchen demonstrations" with a program that consists of teaching parents, especially those who have malnourished children in the village, the way they can cook a balanced diet from their harvests such as soya, sweet potatoes, green vegetables etc. This she said, will help parents learn how to prepare balanced dietary meals.
"Parents should take the early years of a child very seriously because they influence what happens to them when they become adults. As children acquire the ability to speak, learn and reason in early years, cornerstones should be laid that later affect their growth" said Dr. Anita.
The national target to reduce stunting by 2024 is that the number of stunted children should be less than 19% In order for this to be attained, centre-based, community and home-based ECDs should be established until village level.
During the dialogue, Gakenke District mayor Nzamwita Deogratias reiterated the commitment from districts to the fight malnutrition, mainly through helping to change the mind set of ordinary people.
Stakeholders and ordinary citizens have also pledged to increase awareness on inclusiveness of children with disability and others with special needs in early learning, positive parenting and importance of family planning.
After the dialogue at the launch of the campaign, there were community interactions with residents at Ruli community ground where various stakeholders showcased their interventions and their roles in early childhood development in Gakenke District.
The Minister of Health Diane Gashumba while addressing residents said that unlike malnutrition and starvation whereby children may appear physically thin or wasted, stunting often goes overlooked.
"While the most obvious feature is short height, stunting extends far beyond physical measurement.
Though some people are naturally short, stunting specifically refers to children who are short-for-age as a result of insufficient food over a long period of time" said Gashumba
She explained that the way a mother is treated and handled during pregnancy has repercussions to the child she is carrying.
"Mothers should immediately go to see a doctor soon after missing their periods so that they get the necessary medical attention by attending four required antenatal visits for their own health and that of the child" she added
Talking to the New Times during the event, the mayor of Gakenke district Nzamwita Deogratias said that more emphasis is going to be put into village kitchens
"Ibikoni by'Umudugudu" so that parents can learn how to prepare balanced diets for their children.
"We shall make malnutrition history by working together as a team with stakeholders through attending dialogues and making follow ups on parents with children suffering with malnutrition and stunting. Also in our plans, we intend to increase the number of Early Childhood Development centers and encourage parents to attend parents' evening forum which is a platform through bihavior change" said Nzamwita.
Showcasing social protection interventions
At their stall, Society for Family Health (SFH), a Non-Governmental Organisation concerned with Social Marketing and Behavioural Change Communication in various health aspects demonstrated methods and showcased products that explain to both parents, mothers and fathers on the importance of family planning, methods and how they provide FP services.
While demonstrating their products, the representative for SFH explained that they provide family planning products and services through training, and multi-media campaigns on family planning methods to increase access to family planning and to overcome the barriers that prevent women from using modern contraceptives.
In 2017, the Government commissioned the National ECD Programme (NECDP) with the overall goal of reducing stunting through ECD. NECDP is also mandated to coordinate all programs related to ECD and nutrition to attain the desired child development outcomes on the premise that program integration is critical for holistic child growth and development