Fighting malnutrition amongst young children in Mali
Mrs Sissoko's story
mother|struggled to feed daughter|free consultation
This year, almost half a million children are at risk of suffering from acute malnutrition in Mali, a serious condition that can cause both death and permanent disability if left untreated. What’s more, due to inappropriate child feeding practices and misinformation about appropriate nutrition for young children as well as high incidence of diarrhoeal disease, this figure is expected to rise.
Mrs Sissoko from Alafia, a rural commune in the Tombouctou Region of Northern Mali, knows the plight of battling childhood malnutrition only too well.
A mother of a five month old baby girl, at one point Mrs Sissoko did not have access to basic healthcare services and struggled to feed her daughter – through access to a bespoke training programme implemented by International Medical Corps and funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) she now leads efforts to teach other women about the importance of appropriate nutrition and feeding practices for young children.
“I was not able to care for my daughter”, Mrs Sissoko said, “and I saw many other mothers in my community struggling as well. I wanted to make a difference.”
Unfortunately, Mrs Sissoko’s situation is not unusual. In remote areas of Northern Mali many do not have access to quality health and nutrition services. For young children this is especially dangerous as they are particularly vulnerable. Inadequate nutrition before the age of five can lead to irreversible health damage in the future, but for many families this is just a secondary concern to that of survival.
International Medical Corps has operated in Mali since early 2013 and delivers programmes in emergency health, nutrition, women’s and children’s health and protection for conflict-affected and displaced populations in Northern Mali. This includes free consultations, referrals and treatment for mothers and their children at targeted health facilities.
Mrs Sissoko attended a free consultation with her daughter to learn about the importance of only giving breastmilk to children under 6 months old, as well the best positions for breastfeeding her daughter. Counselling and support on appropriate feeding practices for young children at various ages is now shared during antenatal care visits, vaccination campaigns and during general consultations in all International Medical Corps supported health facilities.
“What I learned was so useful and I am very grateful for this support”, she said. “My daughter is healthy now, and that’s the most important thing in the world.”
In order to best support women and their children, International Medical Corps also works with men in the community, sharing with them ways of supporting the nutritional needs of their families. Traditionally the nutrition of children in a family was entirely the woman’s responsibility. Now, through programmes like International Medical Corps’ nutrition and health outreach work in Northern Mali, men not only understand the importance of encouraging their wives to practice exclusive breastfeeding but also how to support their family when the child is older, by providing the family with the right kind of food for a balanced and healthy diet.
Mrs Sissoko is now herself a member of the Infant and Young Child Feeding support group for women supported by International Medical Corps.