Thursday, March 3, 2016

Multiple Micronutrient Powders helping parents to improve the overall quality of young children’s diet

Eight month old Nilton receives micronutrient powder from CHC.
@UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/Mpgoncalves
Natalia and Fernando Salsinha are the proud parents of five children, two boys and three girls. Fernando is a farmer, who together with his wife Natalia lives in a small house in Kamalpu Aldeia, in Railaku Administrative post of Ermera District, along with Natalia’s mother and youngest sister. A total of nine people are living in the household.

Their son, Nilton is eight months old and the youngest of the five children.  He is still within what is referred to as the window of golden opportunity, the so called “First 1000 Days”. This time period from pregnancy until 24 months is the most important time for a child to be well nourished in order to stave off stunting and grow and develop to his/her full potential.

Therefore at this age, it is particularly important for Nilton to receive the right nutrition, a mix of continued breastfeeding along with receiving appropriate local and diverse nutritious food.

Dietary diversification and MNP- hoping to bring desirable change
Natalia indicates that she herself grows some vegetables, such as mustard, pumpkin, and cauliflower in her garden.  She also raises chickens and pigs. Some of the production from her garden is for consumption, while some she sells in the market in Railaku. 

However, while Natalia is growing diverse food, it is hard to meet the micronutrient needs of a young child like Nilton with the typical Timorese homemade complementary food. 
Natalia with her son on her way back to home from CHC
@UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/Mpgoncalves
In Timor-Leste, the Food and Nutrition Survey (2013) found that nationally the minimum acceptable diet among children like Nilton, those 6 – 23 months old, was only 17.6%, and in Ermera it was only 11%.  

Additionally, among these same children, 36% are zinc deficient and 37% have iron deficiency anaemia.  MNPs provide the right daily amount of micronutrients to meet the amount that Nilton needs for his age to grow and develop. 

Natalia only started to use MNP in her son’s meal since December 2015, when Nilton turned 6 months old, and she is very happy as she is confident that her son now receives all the micronutrients that he needs to grow and to develop.

“I am really happy with the introduction of this package. From now on I don’t have much to worry, as all he needs for his development and growth  is provided to him through the variety of food which is  locally available here along with this little powder sachet,” she said.

“He is now looking healthier if compared to his siblings when they were at the same ages”, she continued.

Sharing knowledge amongst each other
In fact Natalia joined a Mother Support Group herself (which also includes some fathers) under the guidance of the Alola Foundation, in 2009.  As an active member of this group she herself provides advice to other mothers who come to the Railaku Community Health Center (CHC), in particular, on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and on complementary feeding. 

“Every Friday, I assist in infant and maternal health sessions at the CHC. I help to disseminate feeding related messages and now also the distribution of MNPs - not only at Railaku CHC, but also during the regular SISCA (community outreach) sessions. I also will help to disseminate MNP to all mothers in my aldeia/village,” Natalia continued.
Natalia Soares receiving the MNP package from the Nutrition Officer, Matias Maria Salsinha,
at CHC Railaku @UNICEF Timor-Leste/2016/Mpgoncalves
In October of 2015, the Nutrition Coordinator for Railaku, Matias Maria Salsinha, had counselled Natalia on the importance of diversifying children’s meals and adding a protein source food to the meal and in addition introduced her to a new intervention in Timor-Leste, the Multiple Micronutrient Powders (MNP).

Using the skills he received from the Specific Nutrition Intervention Package (SNIP) training on how to provide counselling to mothers, Matias explained to her the benefits of MNPs being added to children’s meal along with a diversified diet.

He also demonstrated how to sprinkle the MNPs into the meal. After Natalia was briefed on the benefits of MNP and the recommended complementary feeding, she smiled while looking at her son Nilton and said “Hmm, this sachet has what my child needs, I will make sure to add it to my son’s meals before he is starting to eat”.

With support from the European Union and technical assistance from UNICEF, the Multiple Micronutrient Powders intervention is reaching children (age between 6 months to 23 months) in Bobonaro, Ermera and Ainaro municipalities, along with the training on Specific Nutrition Intervention Package provided to the Nutrition Coordinators like Matias Maria Salsinha, as well as primary health care workers, enabling them to conduct the counselling session for parents on both complementary feeding and diversifying children’s diets, as well as how to administer the MNPs.

By Maria Paulina de Assis Gonçalves

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