Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mothers work together to fight child malnutrition in Rakhine IDP camps

By Ye Lwin
©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Ye Lwin
Sittwe, Rakhine State, March 2014: Twenty three year-old Khin Saw looks at her two children proudly. They live in Thet Kay Pyin IDP camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State and, despite the difficult living conditions, both children are healthy and strong. 
But this was not always the case. Khin Saw has been living in this IDP Camp since inter-communal violence erupted three years ago. At that time she already had her first baby. “I didn’t have any knowledge about breastfeeding and its benefits”, she revealed. “I breastfed for only 40 days, then I started to give complimentary food”. As a result, the baby became weaker and sick, suffering from diarrhoea and other illness.
Three years later, Khin Saw has learned many lessons. She is one of the 275 lactating mothers living in this IDP camp and a participant member of the mother to mother support group. “Through health education dialogue in the camp, I am now aware of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, and infant and young child feeding”, she revealed. “I exclusively breastfed my second child who is now six months of age”.
With UNICEF support, Save the Children has been implementing interventions, aiming to reduce malnutrition-related mortality and morbidity among conflict-affected people in Sittwe and Pauktaw camps, where more than 6000 lactating mothers and 6300 infants and young children live.
“Since 2014, we are providing treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM), antenatal care services and maternal and new-born health information, for pregnant women, lactating mothers and young children”, explained Pa Pa, Project Officer from Save the Children.
Under the Infant and Young Child Feeding component of this project, 100 volunteer mothers with under two year-old babies are mobilised to change behaviours on nutrition practices. These activities will also improve nutrition resilience in emergency settings.
San San is the health education facilitator in Thet Kay Pyin IDP camp, where she uses the Breastfeeding spaces to explain nutrition practices for lactating mothers. “At first, it’s difficult to educate mothers in the camps because some are forbidden to go outside due to religious beliefs”, she explained. “For that reason, we have 100 volunteer mothers who disseminate those key messages from door to door. I am convinced that even those who cannot come to our breastfeeding space, receive the most important messages about nutrition practices”, she said confidently. 
Similarly, in close coordination with Myanmar Health Assistance Association (MHAA), UNICEF has been implementing another nutrition project for children, pregnant women and lactating mother in six townships of Rakhine State, benefiting 27,000 IDPs.
Two years ago, Thae Su Khaing, mother of a three year-old boy, arrived to Sat Yoe Kya Myo Thit Camp, where 400 children under five and more than 100 pregnant and lactating mothers are now living.
“When I first arrived, my son was suffering from severe acute malnutrition”, she recalled.  “With the treatment received from the MHAA clinic installed in the camp, my son totally recovered from that dire stage”, she declared. 
“Our project has achieved successful results”, assured Hla Hla Kyi, Project Officer from MHAA. “In just this camp, we have managed to cure 70 children out of 77 who were suffering from moderate malnutrition and cure eight children out of 12 who were suffering from severe acute malnutrition,” she said.

Maternal and child under-nutrition is one of the biggest health and development problems that Myanmar faces.  About one in three children below five years of age are stunted (short for their age), while 7.9% are dangerously thin (wasted).

“The time between conception and the age of 2 – the first 1000 days - is a critically important window during which proven nutrition and feeding interventions, particularly breastfeeding, must be protected, promoted and supported” explained Penelope Campbell, UNICEF Chief, Young Child Survival and Development.
As a result, UNICEF supports the Government to scale up proven nutrition interventions, including Infant and Young Child Feeding counselling, micronutrient supplementation, deworming, salt iodisation, community-based nutrition promotion and the management of acute malnutrition. The main goal is to reach all women and children, by strengthening existing systems at national and sub-national levels.
“Investment in nutrition offers one of the highest financial returns of all development interventions” concluded Penelope Campbell.