Thanks to a national campaign, health centers and community health workers support malnourished children in Rwanda.
By Denise Museminali
When Daniel was just 11 months old, his mother suddenly passed away from illness. Without her, he was no longer able to breastfeed and gradually became malnourished.
In Rwanda, 38 percent of children under five years old experience chronic malnutrition, or stunting.[i] Stunted children tend to perform poorly in school and are less likely to become productive adults In fact, the World Bank Group estimates that malnourished children are at risk of losing 10 percent of their lifetime earning potential.[ii]
Recognizing the devastating impact of malnutrition in young children, the Governor of the Eastern Province sought the assistance of the USAID-supported Rwanda Health Systems Strengthening (RHSS) Project, and implemented by MSH, in planning a campaign against malnutrition in the province. By leveraging data from the Rwanda Health Management Information System (R-HMIS) — which consolidates data from different sources (such as community health workers, clinics, or hospitals) into one platform — the RHSS Project Provincial Technical Advisor helped district leaders identify communities where malnutrition was most prevalent. In leading coordination efforts between the Governor and District Health Managers, the RHSS Project fostered an approach that extended all the way to the community level.
During the campaign, community health workers (CHWs) and health centers screened children in their catchment areas to determine their nutritional status. Amina was one of the CHWs working with the Ntoma Health Center in Nyagatare District when she met Jean Cyiza and his son Daniel.
“I felt so compelled to help Jean Cyiza and his son. His wife had passed away and he was struggling to raise two young children by himself. After the screening, I urged him to quickly take Daniel to the health center to begin treatment for malnutrition. I could see that Jean was afraid that he might lose someone else that he cherished, but he was also very determined to do whatever he could to help Daniel regain his health. Even when he is working long days, he puts milk aside and makes sure that someone will be at home to help Daniel and his brother receive their daily nutritional requirements,” says Amina.
Thanks to CHWs such as Amina, Daniel and 105 other children at the Ntoma Health Center were subsequently registered to receive nutritional support in the form of a daily milk allowance for six months, until their condition improved.
Since the beginning of the campaign, records from the Ntoma Health Center show that the number of children registered to receive milk as a nutritional supplement has decreased from 105 in March 2016 to 50 in March 2017. All 105 children who were originally registered to receive milk have recovered and maintain a healthy weight.
“No child should suffer from preventable and treatable malnutrition,” says Azariyus Kayihura, Head Nutritionist at theNyagatare District Hospital. This is whyCHWs in the Eastern Province of Rwanda continue to work with communities to ensure that families receive the support they need to improve the health of their children.
[i] Rwanda Demographic & Health Survey, 2014–2015
[ii] The Cost of Hunger in Rwanda. Social and Economic Impacts of Child Undernutrition in Rwanda. Implications on National Development & Vision 2020. World Food Program