Huye District still experiences cases of malnutrition but authorities and other stakeholders have intensified effort to address the problem.
As part of the Milk-Drinking and Anemia prevention Week Campaigns in the district, local leaders and USAID Ejo Heza officials have been hosting community discussions to address the issue of nutrition in the area, and the steps needed to combat child malnutrition.
The campaign has seen 400 people trained in community mobilisation to foster nutrition and best breastfeeding practices, both in informal and formal working places.
The trainees are expected to train over 14,000 people on breastfeeding, and fighting anemia in Huye District.
The rate of stunting among children under five has improved to 29.7 per cent in 2014, from over 45 per cent in 2010, according to Médiatrice Mujyawamariya, the Kabutare hospital and district nutritionist.
She attributed the improvement to the sensitisation campaigns on breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding gives children the healthiest start in life and is one of the simplest, smartest and most cost-effective ways of ensuring that all children survive and thrive, according to health experts.
But, the achievement and sustainability of this goal requires proper nutrition for both the mother and the child.
According to Rwanda Demographic Health Survey (RDHS 2014-2015), 38 per cent of children under five in the country are stunted compared to 44 per cent in 2010.
John Ames, USAID Ejo Heza Programme Chief of Party, said Rwanda ranks number one in the world in breastfeeding with 87 per cent of children less than 6 months being exclusively breastfed (RDHS 2014-2015).
“This is thanks to the fact that the government of Rwanda is very proactive and has very positive agenda in breastfeeding. The Ministry of Health has been successful in mobilising relevant partners to join efforts to increase awareness and promote breastfeeding,” he said.
Ames, however, said more efforts are needed to sustain best breastfeeding practices to fight stunting in the country.
“And one of the ways to tackle that is to improve breastfeeding practices. So, there is a whole range to practice that and people need to maximise the impact of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding reduces stunting, which is a life-long condition. If one did not receive proper nutrition during their first six months, they will feel the impact the rest of their lives. Stunting causes cognitive impairment,” he said.
USAID Ejo Heza (brighter future), a programme run by Global Communities is one of the stakeholders with interventions to address the malnutrition challenge.
During the awareness campaigns, women are encouraged to work hard, breastfeed and drink milk as well as fight malnutrition.
The Huye District vice Mayor for Social Affairs, Christine Niwemugeni said such drives educate people on the importance of nutrition.
“We give people cows under Girinka, but you realise they are quick to sell milk to get money forgetting its health benefits, especially to their children. But with such awareness messages, people appreciate that it is not good to sell all the milk they have,” she said.
“As part of efforts children are weighed every month by the community health workers, and reports are made to assess the change. We then particularly follow up children still having malnutrition problem.”
Dorothée Mukamurangira, a resident of Tumba Sector hailed the campaign.
“We were ignorant of proper nutrition. I used to feed my four-month baby on potatoes while going to the garden in the morning. But after the campaigns, I exclusively breastfed my child. I exclusively breastfed her for six months before I started giving him porridge and other supplementary meals,” she said.
Josephine Akeru, another resident commended the campaign, saying it is promoting children and mother’s welfare.
“We have been sensitised about best ways to breastfeed children whether at work or not. You can go to the garden or do other odd jobs but still breastfeed a baby from there. The six months are dedicated to exclusive breastfeeding,” she said.
However, some mothers expressed concerns over lack of access to milk as they do not own cows.