Garoua, Cameroon—Somewhere in the small Lade Gore village, 64 km from Garoua, chief town of Cameroon’s Far North region, Yvette Goulo sits on a small stool between two huts with grass roofs. She and Maxime Vondou, her robust 2 and a half years son are surrounded by 11 nursing mothers fondling their babies in their arms. Their babies are about 6months old or younger.
|Yvette Goulo stands up to emphasis a point|
Goulo tells them how vital it is to feed new born babies exclusively with breast milk until they are 6months old. Vondou is her fourth child and his older siblings are as healthy as he is.
It is on this basis that she was chosen to be a member of support teams created to sensitise women in their communities on proper child feeding and hygiene.
This, within the framework of an on-going implementation of the pilot phase of a UNICEF programme against malnutrition and anemia in children between the ages of 6 to 23 months and coupled with the promotion of proper feeding for younger children.
The program is known as the ‘Programme de Fortification Almentaire a Domicile et de Promotion de l’Alimentation du Nourisson et du Jeune Enfant’ in French.
Guiyasse Diane, one of the nursing mothers at the sensitisation meeting with Goulo, tells this reporter that she doesn’t miss a chance to listen to her.
“This is my first child and he is five months old. I want him to be as healthy as the children of the Light Mother (the nickname given to exemplary mothers chosen to sensitise others)
Like her son, 9000 other children of ages between 0-6 months have been targeted in four health districts; Pitoa, Bibeni, Golombe and Ngong heath districts in the North and South regions.
Andre Temnga, Chief of the Bibemi Integrated Health District says the implementation of the programme in his district is satisfactory. “One good thing is that the communities are engaged, they have a sense of belonging to the initiative. They are sensitised by people in their community.”
Temnga says, just as it is done in other participating districts, the target mothers or guardians are in regular contact with support teams and action team members, otherwise known as community health agents; and there is a cordial relation between them, he adds.
A total of 160 health agents and 1,297 community health agents have been trained so far to impart knowledge on nursing mothers in the target districts.
Keyou Pascal, 26-year-old community health agent in Bibemi tells this reporter after a session with nursing mothers that: “We had a few problems at the beginning, but now everything is fine. Some of the problems stemmed from the fact that some men did not want their women to attend sensitisation meetings for undisclosed reasons; but we managed to convince them.”
Five Star Pap
Keyou says he usually goes out to meet parents accompanied by 33-year old Wadjalle. They both testify they were only able to convince people in the community because they are known to be part of them.
Keyou says: “We had cultures which forbade children from consuming certain nutritive foods like eggs and fish and there was also a misconception that the first breast milk of every woman who just put to birth was poisonous and had to be milked and thrown away.
“Now women in our community call the first milk ‘the baby’s vaccine’. Certain detrimental beliefs and cultural practices are being abandoned” says Wadjelle. He also told us that this positive change facilitated the acceptability of what they call “Five Star Pap”.
‘Five Star Pap’ is a feeding pattern UNICEF taught women. It provides locally enriched soft food to children above 6months.It is a mix of milled fish, groundnut, oil, fruit and millet.
VitaMin: The New Buzzword
A 2011 government survey showed 60% of children between the ages of 6 to 23 months in Cameroon suffer from anemia while a third of the 122 of 1000 children who die in the country before their fifth birthday, die of malnutrition related diseases.
Recent findings show some 40% of children in the North region suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunted growth. 68.2 % of children between six and nine month old suffer from anemia.
In a bid to hastily turn the tide, UNICEF and the public health ministry, in July 2015, began distributing micronutrients to mothers and guardians of children between 6 to 23 months to reinforce its home fortification and Vitamin A supplementation program against malnutrition and anemia.
|Nursing mothers receiving packets of VitaMin micronutrients|
The home fortification program involves, in addition to the Five Star Pap promotion, a door-to-door distribution of packets of a food supplement branded VitaMin- a mixture of vitamins A, B, E, C, B1, B2, B6, B12 (Vita) and Minerals such as iron, zinc, selenium and other minerals (Min).
The free distribution of the micronutrient powder which is added into cooked food was later halted.
Beneficiary mothers like Eliane Toudoukou of Langui Pionnier, says they were told the Pitoa health district was out of stock.
Earlier in January this year the distribution resumed. Toudoukou says her 17-month old baby has grown healthier, adding two more kilograms to his weight.
After a tour of the Langui Pionnier, Loppéré, Bounguéré, Langui Mofou, Wouro Bocko, Roumdé, Wafago, Wouro Kari, and Laddé Goré areas in the Pitoa and Bibemi health districts, we observed that the new word in every mouth is VitaMin.
Gouprou Rosaline says her daughter; Garcia Hagais happier, stronger and has more appetite for food. “Even if the health district runs out of free stock, I will not hesitate to buy the micronutrients for my child if it is sold”.
Adding a sachet of VitaMin into the Five Star Pap while her child looks on from a nearby mat, Dougoula Angele tells this reporter she is confortable enriching her child’s food with the supplement because it is free of charge and more importantly because it was prescribed by health officials.
The home fortifications program targets 43,800 children in the North and South regions.
Bello Lougga, Nutritionist at the North regional delegation for public health, says the aim of the community driven UNICEF programme is to reduce the prevalence rate of acute malnutrition in the regions by 10% by 2017.
Observers say the level of success recorded so far in the implementation of the pilot phase of the programme indicates that it would make sense for government and donors to begin laying the groundwork for a nationwide implementation.
By Mbom Sixtus, on special assignment in Garoua