By Alison Balfe
In Niger, GOAL staff worked with mothers and traditional healers on how to help prevent and manage malnutrition in children under 5. The programme, funded by ECHO, has seen remarkable results with over 350 community health workers now present in 175 villages in the Tanout and Belbedji districts in Zinder region. In just over a year and a half, GOAL has treated 15,000 children for acute malnutrition following the assistance from the community health workers. The trained mothers and community healers take the MUAC measurement and determine the scale of malnutrition based on the measurement.
Children are assessed for malnutrition by taking a MUAC (mid-upper-arm circumference) measurement and treatment is decided based on this measurement. Ibrahim Maman Mato, a 38-year-old father in Bakin Birgi became a community health worker through GOAL’s programme.
"I am so grateful for GOAL’s intervention in my village because I gained great competence in record time. I can now detect malnutrition,
I know the causes and consequences it has on children under five years old and I can also refer them to the health centre."
Following his training, Ibrahim recognised signs of malnutrition in his 22-month-old daughter Yasmina and referred her to the local health centre for immediate attention.
“As soon as I was trained, when I came back home and measured the oedema of her lower limbs, I realised that Yasmina had all the signs of kwashiorkor [protein deficiency] and was referred to Bakin Birgi health facility for investigation. The health worker's results indicated that my daughter suffers from kwashiorkor which requires admission to the nutritional stabilization centre. After three weeks, Yasmina recovered and we continued outpatient treatment in our local health facility where she completed her treatment over the course of two weeks. Since the end of outpatient treatment, we have continued to monitor and maintain the health of our child through the key family practice tips we learned from community liaisons.”
Before Ibrahim was a community health healer, he preferred traditional methods of healing for children who were potentially critically malnourished.
“I have been a traditional healer since the age of 25 and I have met many children who had the same signs of malnutrition, but unfortunately, we lacked the relevant knowledge.
Many of these children could have been saved if I had learned about malnutrition during that time."
Even when his young daughter was unwell, he believed traditional methods could improve her health.
“Yasmina was sick for several months and I thought she suffered from spells of evil spirits. I had kept her at home for three months and tried several
types of local herbal concoctions without any results. It took our MUAC training to change the situation.”
Now Ibrahim has the correct training and skills to help recognised signs of malnutrition he has vowed to make sure his voluntary work makes a difference in his community.
“I made a commitment to refer all children suspected of malnutrition to the health facility, and currently I have referred a total of 13 children.
I now call on my traditional healer colleagues to contribute to the fight against malnutrition and other childhood diseases through referrals and sensitization.”
Ibrahim Maman Mato, Community Healer, Zinder Region