Women and men join forces to fight child malnutrtion in northwest Nigeria

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Hurera Saadu has seen many of her community’s children suffer from malnutrition, some of them dying as a result. The 33 year-old feels fortunate that she didn’t lose any of her own. She fed five of her babies with water as well as breast milk during the first six months of their lives, but only because she didn’t know any better.

Now, as leader of a support group of women volunteers trained by UNICEF in infant and young child feeding (IYCF), Hurera works tirelessly to ensure Kadawawa doesn’t lose no more.

“I didn’t know I should have given them only breast milk at that age,” she explains with regret etched into her voice. “I only learnt that later at a mothers’ support group.”

She and her colleagues devote hours of their time going house to house and running fortnightly meetings in their community to champion best IYCF practices. They have made a massive impact on Kadawawa’s families, and undoubtedly saved lives.

“We have succeeded – in our community we don’t often see malnourished children,” Hurera reports proudly, pointing to a sturdy toddler who was exclusively breastfed for the first six months of his life, adding, “As you can see – our children are healthy!”

For the seven-strong team of volunteers, every social occasion as a fresh opportunity to educate other mothers. Weddings, naming ceremonies and even burials offer the women a platform to advocate for a wide variety of healthy practices for all the family, including ante-natal care and good hygiene habits.

Nigeria’s malnutrition levels are high with an estimated 2.5 million children categorised as suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). 17.5 per cent of children aged 6-23 months are fed the minimum acceptable diet (NNHS, 2014).

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