Nutrition messages shaping health outcomes in rural Tanzania
Communities in rural Tanzania reaping health benefits
GEORGE ALOYCE MAGESSA
Once a month, Stephen John volunteers at the Bahi Dispensary in Bahi district, Dodoma. Here, he assists nurses at the Reproductive and Child Health clinic by delivering important nutrition messages. On same days, Stephen works within his own community in Dodoma, as a Community Health Volunteer (CHV), advising parents-to-be on the importance of good nutrition.
In rural Tanzania, there is limited access to medical personnel and many community members face challenges in both accessing and understanding sensitive nutritional information.
Despite rapid and sustained economic growth, official poverty rates still stand at 28.2% according to the 2014 Tanzania Human Development Report. Although Tanzania produces over 90 percent of its own food requirements, access to adequate food remains a problem for many households. Nationally, Tanzania has high levels of malnutrition despite the country as a whole being food secure.
The agriculture sector in which approximately 80% of households are primarily engaged — recorded an average annual growth rate of roughly 4%.
Stephen is part of a network of more than 56 CHVs that support the World Food Programme (WFP) Boresha Lishe project.
The Boresha Lishe project is a five year (2017–2021) project that is implemented by WFP in 124 villages in the Dodoma and Singida regions of Tanzania thanks to funding received by the European Union and Japan (EURO 13.4 million).
The project seeks to improve knowledge on nutrition, dietary diversity, practices in water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH) through social behaviour change communication, diversification of food production and distribution of specialized nutritious foods. The project also targets to improve access for 30,000 women and children to nutritious food.
“It is important to continue working with communities to help improve their awareness and understanding of the five food groups and their importance,” said and enthusiastic Stephen.
During his sessions with the community members, Stephen shares the importance of good nutrition during the first 1000 days of a child’s life and how it contributes to the development of the cognitive areas of the child’s brain.
“When parents understand the importance of providing their children with the five groups of food, their children will perform better in school, especially in early childhood education.” said Stephen.
The high rates of chronic under nutrition among children in Tanzania are driven by poverty and food insecurity, but also largely by poor infant and young childcaring and feeding practices at the household level. Stunting is an outcome of failure to receive adequate nutrition over an extended period of time and is also affected by recurrent or chronic illness. Underweight and wasting in children is 13.4 percent and 3.8 percent respectively, suggestive of transitory and emergency food insecurity .
Dodoma and Singida regions have nutritional indicators that further lag behind the national average, with Dodoma resulting amongst the nine Regions with the highest levels of chronic malnutrition and stunting- 45.2%.
Stephen also shared that men were not as responsive to information on reproductive health and nutrition. But with time, he has seen their active participation in registering their partners and bringing their children to the clinic for check-ups and treatment.
“ There used to be a lot of malnutrition in the rural areas, which has rapidly slowed down because of the hard work done over the last five years promoting health and nutrition” said Stephen, distracted by the cries of young babies at the dispensary.
Addressing malnutrition increases GDP growth and reduces national budgetary costs for custodial care and malnutrition related lost lives.
Read more about WFP’s work in Tanzania