Helping Health Workers and Mothers in the Democratic Republic of Congo Reduce Childhood Malnutrition
Published on June 6, 2023
By Mussa Kachunga Stanis, Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist, MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience, DRC
“I was shocked when I heard that my son was diagnosed with moderate malnutrition,” said Passy Kwizera after she brought her four-year-old son Moise in for a nutrition screening through a MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience activity. Moise was just one of the children diagnosed with malnutrition that day in Boikene, a community located in the Beni Health Zone of North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
At Moise’s initial screening, his mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measured 119 mm (around 4.5 inches), a sign of moderate acute malnutrition. A MOMENTUM-trained community health worker (CHW) then advised Passy about the types of foods Moise needed to eat to prevent his condition from worsening. “I had to rely on nutrient-rich foods … to improve my son’s nutrition and health status,” said Passy, who learned to ensure that Moise was eating a diversified diet and how to prepare healthy recipes such as “four-star porridge.” This hearty dish, which contains all the micronutrients needed for a child’s proper development, is a blend of foods that includes at least one ingredient from each of the “four-star” groups: starches (first star), animal proteins (second star), pulses (third star), and fruits and vegetables (fourth star).
In eastern DRC, MOMENTUM helps the North Kivu Ministry of Health reduce childhood morbidity and mortality resulting from acute malnutrition by supporting the training and mobilization of CHWs to conduct nutrition screenings for children under five at least once every three months. The project works across eight health zones and facilitates training on key topics such as maternal, infant, and young child nutrition and community-based management of acute malnutrition. MOMENTUM provides routine screening supplies such as MUAC tapes, which CHWs use to measure a patient’s mid-upper arm circumference and obtain a quick assessment of his or her nutritional status. When cases of acute malnutrition are detected, the CHWs refer the patient to specialized care, including nutrition counseling for parents.
Thierry Kasereka, a CHW at the Munigi Health Facility in Goma, has seen the positive results firsthand: “Before, the community believed symptoms of malnutrition [to] be a scourge from the devil, and out of desperation, many families would turn to ineffective traditional remedies and prayers. I’ve been trained by MOMENTUM to teach parents and the community how to spot the signs of malnutrition and other diseases early and to show them how to keep their children healthy.”
According to UNICEF, malnutrition “is the leading underlying cause of child mortality in the DRC. Every year, 160,000 children in the DRC die of causes related to malnutrition.”1 This tragic situation is the result of various factors including massive population displacements, food insecurity, poor feeding practices, the prevalence of childhood illnesses, limited access to safe drinking water, or a combination of these factors.2 For example, drinking unsafe water can cause illnesses such as diarrhea, which in turn can prevent children from getting enough nutrients from the food they consume and ultimately lead to malnutrition.
To mitigate these challenges and build community resilience in North Kivu, MOMENTUM has helped trained more than 700 health care providers, including local health officials, health care workers, and 520 CHWs. From October 2022 through March 2023 alone, CHWs mobilized by the North Kivu Ministry of Health screened 219,405 children (97,792 boys and 121,613 girls) for acute malnutrition in 70 North Kivu communities.
MOMENTUM also partners with health care providers in setting up community nutrition support groups to enable pregnant and lactating women to learn from their peers about proper nutrition and other family practices that promote good health. Mothers participating in these groups are supplied with, and trained to use, MUAC tapes to help screen children under five and pregnant and lactating women for acute malnutrition.
The CHWs trained and equipped through MOMENTUM help bridge the gaps in available health resources in project communities, where health care worker turnover is common. They also assist mothers trained through the community support groups to engage with children on matters of nutrition. As Thierry Kasereka notes, “Now I’ve noticed there are fewer children who become too ill before being taken to a health center. By going from mother to mother, home to home, we are empowering more families and reaching more children than ever before. … If you give power to a woman, she can fight effectively against malnutrition.”
Passy Kwizera would agree. Within three weeks after she first brought Moise to be examined by a MOMENTUM-trained CHW, his overall health has improved, and his mid-upper arm circumference went from 119 mm to 138 mm. “Today, my son looks like a healthy and normal child,” Passy said joyfully.
CHWs will continue to monitor Moise’s nutritional status and encourage Passy to pay close attention to him. “I’m happy about the … CHW’s decision to come back to check on Moise’s nutrition status and thankful for my son’s recovery, which would not have been possible without the work of MOMENTUM’s staff. Through this project, not only Moise but other children like him have become healthy again.”
- UNICEF, “A common commitment to the reduction of chronic malnutrition in the DRC,” https://www.unicef.org/drcongo/en/press-releases/common-commitment-reduction-chronic-malnutrition-drc
- Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, “Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Acute Malnutrition Situation September 2021 – March 2022 and Projection for April – August 2022,” https://www.ipcinfo.org/ipc-country-analysis/details-map/en/c/1155153/
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