Bringing Health Closer
Fighting Malnutrition in Somalia
Written by Beatrice Munyiva, International Medical Corps
40-year-old Fadumo Mohamed resides in Horumar Village in Galkayo, Somalia, with her husband and six children. Like any mother, she was elated when she gave birth to her most recent child.
However, the village had no health facilities and she was forced to make long trips to a facility far away to seek health and nutrition services. Transportation costs weighed heavily on the family, which depends on the daily income from her husband, the sole breadwinner running a small business at the local market.
International Medical Corps conducts routine nutrition screening at the household level. We also conduct community mobilisations, where staff members speak to crowds through megaphones in town centres and where we share nutritional messages during community meetings. Fadumo found out that International Medical Corps was implementing a Blanket Supplementary Feeding Program (BSFP) during a routine household visit conducted by our community health workers (CHWs).
As they conducted nutrition screening, the CHWs identified that Fadumo’s two-year-old daughter, Sahra Muhidin Xusein, was at risk of malnutrition, because her middle upper-arm circumference (MUAC) reading was 12.7cm. They immediately referred her for admission into the BSFP program at Ceelgaab Primary Health Unit.
International Medical Corps supports the health unit, which has provided easier access for mothers like Fadumo to health and nutrition services in Galkayo South. The health unit provides different nutrition programs tailored for children, as well as pregnant and lactating women. With funding from USAID’s International Food Relief Partnership Program, International Medical Corps is implementing a BSFP at the facility to minimise the number of children in Somalia’s Galmudug region who are at risk from becoming malnourished. The initiative also aims to reduce the number of children relapsing after having recovered from severe acute malnutrition.
“When a child or adult was severely sick, we would go to a facility that is very far from our village, causing us to use the little money we had on transportation costs,” explains Fadumo. “At least now we can simply get the care we need by walking to a facility that is less than five minutes away since the primary health unit is only 20 metres away from my home. This is something we highly appreciate.”
After admission to the BSFP, Fadumo’s daughter was given vitamin A supplementation during her first visit and was dewormed and given a measles vaccine during her second visit. Fadumo continued to visit the facility every two weeks, when she would be given 14 sachets of medium-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplement, instructed to use one sachet per day. During the distribution days, Fadumo also received infant and young child feeding counselling, to ensure that she complied with best nutritional practices. The team also educated her about nutrition, hygiene and health promotion practices, including handwashing, good food hygiene practices, when to seek medical care at a health facility with qualified health workers and when to take her children to the facility for immunisations.
Three months since joining the project, the health of Fadumo’s daughter has drastically improved. Her MUAC measurement is now 13.8cm, taking her further away from the risk of malnutrition. Fadumo is also now a CHW, sharing health, protection, hygiene, nutrition best practices and promotion messages in her community.
“International Medical Corps provides routine health, hygiene and nutrition promotion messages, which have really changed my lifestyle,” she says. “I did not even know how to wash my hands—I just used to rub my hands with water only, but now I have learnt and even practice the critical times of handwashing. I am so thankful to International Medical Corps and I request the organisation to continue with the BSFP program and other services.”
Through a complementary nutrition project offered at the health facility, Fadumo also got a chance to join a mother-to-mother support group that encourages women to share their experiences with their peers regarding child feeding. The group also provides a support mechanism for traumatized mothers, enabling them to share of experiences with the group, and teaches them—through cooking demonstrations—how to make a well-balanced diet for their children, using locally available foods, to prevent malnutrition.
“Before I attended the cooking demonstration exercises, I wasn’t aware that children needed a diverse diet. Because of International Medical Corps, I am now aware of what a diverse diet is and how to prepare one using foods that are locally available,” says Fadumo.
Fadumo is among the caregivers and mothers who we have trained on the family MUAC initiative, an alternative screening approach that helps the community detect malnutrition early and enables mothers to be actively involved in their children’s health and nutrition status.
“Through support from International Medical Corps, I am now able to screen my children using a MUAC tape, and I am able to check for danger signs, such as the child not feeding well and having a high temperature,” notes Fadumo. “My plan now is to continue learning from International Medical Corps and to apply what I have learnt in my family, and sensitise my neighbours on good health practices.”
Fadumo’s family is just one of the many families battling malnutrition in Somalia, a country with one of the worst malnutrition rates in the world. Children, in particular, are the most vulnerable; according to UNICEF, more than 178,000 of them are at risk of severe acute malnutrition in 2020. Lack of access to health facilities and awareness of proper nutrition habits, heightened by drought and food insecurity, have left many families affected. International Medical Corps is working hard to change that and to help these at-risk families and children.