Building a Healthier Future through Child Nutrition
“Their goal was to decrease chronic malnutrition and, honestly, no one believed this was possible. … But PCI made a difference. Back then, my son was 10 months old. He is the engine of my life.”
– Oralia, Program Participant, Guatemala
The first few years of a child’s life, especially the first 1,000 days, is the most critical time period of a child’s life. Poor child nutrition – especially chronic malnutrition – during this period can have irreversible, long-term consequences on a child’s health and cognitive development.
In 2015, nearly 6 million children died before their fifth birthday. Most of these deaths could have been avoided with simple, affordable interventions (WHO). Moreover, new estimates, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty, indicate that 250 million children (43%) younger than 5 years in low-income and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential.
PCI implements programs around the world that promote optimal nutrition practices and linkages to nutrition services from an early age. Some of PCI’s work in child nutrition includes:
Promotion of timely initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding among mothers and newborns at Casa Materna – a maternal waiting home in the rural highlands of Guatemala where pregnant women receive high quality maternal and newborn care, and nutrition education on topics such as infant and young child feeding.
In Tanzania, PCI’s Engaging Fathers for Effective Child Nutrition (EFFECT) implementation research explores the added value on child development outcomes and gender equity of engaging male caretakers in a group-based infant and young child feeding intervention. PCI works with women’s peer groups and men’s peer groups to give them the knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy to overcome barriers to access, utilization, and consumption of diverse, nutrient-rich foods; provide responsive care-giving to their children; and address gender norms in the households that affect child nutrition and development.
In Malawi, under PCI’s Njira project, PCI trains Mother Leaders and their male partners on infant and young child feeding best practices. Mother Leaders and their partners then cascade the training and promote the adoption of improved nutrition practices among their neighbor households and broader community.
Providing Newborns with Essential Care and Services
PCI’s Casa Materna in Guatemala has filled a critical gap and played a major role in helping mothers give birth to healthy children and provide their newborns with a positive start in life. The center offers a holistic approach that not only provides essential reproductive, maternal, and newborn health services, but also newborn and infant nutrition education and feeding classes and education on proper sanitation and hygiene practices to ensure parents have the skills to prevent disease and maintain the health of their babies.
Another PCI intervention, Every Preemie—SCALE, is a USAID-funded program and partnership among PCI, the Global Alliance for the Prevention of Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM). It works with global and country-level partners to shine a spotlight on premature birth and catalyze action in 24 countries across Asia and Africa.
The program supports integrated maternal and newborn health care and recognizes the value of quality prenatal care, labor and delivery care, and immediate postnatal care for both the mother and newborn. Every Preemie—SCALE utilizes proven interventions that are known to save the lives of vulnerable babies and give them the best start in life.
Training Mothers and Fathers on Nutrition
In Malawi, as part of PCI’s USAID-funded Njira project, PCI trains over 4,000 Care Group Lead Mothers on evidence-based, integrated nutrition practices. Lead Mothers then provide integrated behavior change support to their peers – a total of 70,000 households – including information on child nutrition guidelines and promotion of infant and young child feeding best practices such as exclusive breastfeeding, timely initiation of nutrient-rich complementary foods, preparation of locally available and affordable nutrient-rich foods, and other important practices that ensure children receive the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Lead Mothers also link households with essential community nutrition services such as growth monitoring and promotion community-based management of acute malnutrition services.
Members of Njira’s 100 Father Groups are also trained on integrated household nutrition and become role models and male champions for nutrition, health, and hygiene in their families and communities.
PCI staff, Lead Mothers, Father Group members, and government health workers make up a powerful team that is leading the way in promoting and sustaining good child nutrition practices in their communities.
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Helping Children Grow with Food Security
PCI’s Project ACCION in Guatemala is an emergency food security program with support from USAID. The project works to reduce short-term hunger and malnutrition among vulnerable families while offering training on health and nutrition practices at the household and community levels. They have become trusted support for encouraging parents to refer to infant feeding nutrition recommendations so that children can grow to be strong and healthy.
Integration of Child Nutrition, Early Childhood Development, and Male Engagement
Globally, 250 million children fail to meet their developmental potential in the first five years of life with detrimental consequences to their future health, learning, behavior, and economic productivity. In the Mara region of Tanzania, undernutrition and inadequate stimulation are significant risk factors for poor early development outcomes. Thirty-four percent of children 0-59 months of age are stunted and one in six children 24-35 months of age are severely stunted. Moreover, there are significant gaps in availability of integrated community-based early childhood development (ECD) programs that target the child-caregiver relationship and the caregiving environment among the most vulnerable children 0-3 years and their caregivers.
To address these needs, PCI along with two research partners – Harvard University and Purdue University – developed an integrated nutrition and early childhood development research study called EFFECTS in the Mara region of Tanzania to promote and measure the impact of behavior change strategies that strengthen the capacity of caregivers to provide optimal care for young children, including nutrition, responsive care for feeding, and stimulation. This study – funded by the Eleanor Crook Foundation and Conrad N. Hilton Foundation – also focuses on understanding best practices around and measuring the impact of engaging men in paternal support for child and family wellbeing.
Under the EFFECTS study, PCI works with 64 women’s peer groups and 32 men’s peer groups to give them the knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy to overcome barriers to access, utilization, and consumption of diverse, nutrient rich, and hygienic foods; provide responsive care-giving and stimulation to their children; and address gender norms in the households that affect child nutrition and development. Facilitated by trained Community Health Promotors in collaboration with Community Health Workers, interpersonal communication and counseling sessions and follow-up home visits will revolve around an integrated, participatory, evidence-based curriculum and behavior change strategy focused on the adoption of responsive care, infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices, and proper sanitation and hygiene among caregivers – including fathers. Every two weeks, group members organize practical activities in their villages to enhance their skills in and self-efficacy in IYCF and responsive, nurturing care-giving.
By Amy Ostrander Kou, a mother of seven, lives [...]