Uganda Village Project (UVP) is working to educate communities in Iganga District, Uganda about malnutrition – the signs and dangers of it, how to prevent it, and how to remedy the situation if a child is already malnourished. This initiative is one element of UVP’s five-year “Healthy Villages” program, which seeks to bring a basic healthcare package to 70 of Iganga’s most under-served villages.
In each of our Healthy Villages hundreds of children are malnourished. In some of these children the effects are barely visible – their hair is tinged only the slightest bit blond, they are perhaps an inch or two shorter than average, they are skinny but not emaciated. In some children, however, the effects are incredibly evident – their hair is thin and a light orange color, they appear to be five years younger than their actual age, their stomach is distended while their limbs are mere blotchy skin stretched tight around bone.
Child malnutrition is an immensely harmful and cross-cutting health concern – not only can malnutrition itself kill, but malnutrition weakens the immune system, causing an array of other diseases. Most malnourished children in our villages have malaria; many are sick with other infections concurrently. Malnourished children often have more trouble at school than their classmates, and most will grow into adults with reduced cognitive and physical ability, making them less productive and less able to provide for their future families.
While many of the causes behind child malnourishment are societal (poverty, child spacing, education levels), others exist at the household level, and may therefore be remedied through community education leading to behavioral shifts. We have created a two-tiered education program through which villagers will learn why child malnutrition is so dangerous, and how to avoid it.
Tier One: In order to make this intervention sustainable, we are working with our five UVP-founded Village Health Teams (VHTs). These teams, trained in basic health and sanitation, act as model citizens and are the primary-level health contacts for each village. A Ugandan nutritionist, working with UVP staff, runs day-long child malnutrition workshops for each VHT, emphasizing recognition of children who are malnourished. In the following weeks, the VHT members will identify the malnourished children in their village, and the children who are most ‘at risk’ of becoming malnourished.
Tier Two: A couple of weeks after the VHT workshops, we hold a massive community outreach on child malnutrition. Village Health Team members will work to particularly ensure that ‘at risk’ families attend the outreach, and both the Ugandan nutritionist and the VHT members shall present material on child malnutrition. In this way the community is not only educated, but they also aware that VHT members are malnutrition ‘experts,’ to whom they can go in times of need. VHT members will keep a record of the malnourished children in the village, and work with families to bring these children back to health. To treat any markedly severe cases, we have partners at the private People And Development Initiatives health clinic who specialize in providing care to severely malnourished children.