Malnutrition in children under five years is an issue that needs urgent attention by both mothers and fathers in their respective households, to ensure they raise healthy families.
Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, while launching the national 1,000-day campaign against malnutrition, on Saturday in Gakenke District, said the overriding aim it to improve maternal and child health in the country.
During the event, the premier said a child’s health right from the time of conceiving until the first two years after birth is critical.
Habumuremyi said malnutrition is an issue of behavioural change where knowledge, attitudes and practices on maternal, infant and child nutrition need to be entrenched and sustained.
“Families must understand the importance of proper nutrition, appropriate care and feeding practices for children as well as pregnant and breast-feeding mothers,” Habumuremyi said.
He said if a child faces malnutrition at a tender age, their growth is affected and if a child is physically unfit, the impact also reaches the brain.
Habumuremyi said in most cases, people just lack information on what constitutes fortified foods.
“This is a crucial programme as it will help us change the behaviour of people and to eradicate ailments associated with malnutrition,” he said, adding that this will minimise infant mortality.
The premier urged parents to equally share the responsibility to ensure their households are always replenished with nutritious foods.
Activities in campaign
Among the activities expected to be undertaken during the campaign include encouraging families to have ‘kitchen gardens’ on which an assorted food varieties can be grown.
“Local leaders and the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion should put more effort to mobilise and educate residents on how to prepare kitchen gardens and other ways to get fortified foods, we all need to eradicate malnutrition,” Habumuremyi added.
Officials said the figures of malnutrition for children under five remain “high” and a survey conducted in 2010 put the figure at 44 per cent.
Habumuremyi urged pregnant women to eat fortified food, avoid work that requires more energy, smoking and consuming alcoholic drinks.
Parents should give their children foritfied food, especially vegetables, fruits and milk, to cushion against diseases that are associated with poor feeding.
Parents were urged to go for antenatal services regularly and take their children to hospital for regular vaccination.
Dr Anita Asiimwe, the State minister for primary and public healthcare, said the campaign aims at changing behaviour in families, especially among husbands who seem to leave all duties related to children’s health to their wives.
She said the ministry of health will work closely with other concerned ministries to ensure the campaign is a success.
During the campaign, the ministry is targeting, on top of conducting a door-to-door sensitisation on the kitchen garden, to have a model garden at cell level where families will learn how it is prepared.
Naola Skinner, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) country representative stressed that the role of husbands and fathers is extremely important in insuring that their pregnant and breast-fedding mothers and children get the right nutrition during this critical period.
She said Unicef has been supporting projects in the country and will continue working with government to fight malnutrition, especially among children.
At the launch of the exercise, officials demonstrated to parents how to prepare fortified food and fed some children and their parents.
Parents said the campaign is a good initiative that will help them understand better the importance of fortified food.