A joint prevention of stunting programme – combining the work of WFP, UN sister agencies, the Government of Zimbabwe, non-governmental partners and local communities – is helping children in Zimbabwe reap the long-term benefits of a healthy start to life.
By Tatenda Macheka
While her name would suggest otherwise, Immaculate, a two-year-old from Chinamasa village in eastern Zimbabwe, spent her first several months of life underweight and frail, a result of malnutrition. Life was also difficult for her mother, Catherine Zuze, as was only 17 when she became. Forced to make the transition from student to parent, Catherine saw her entire life change over a few short months.
“Mine was a double tragedy,” says Catherine, “I became a young mother, then dropped out of school and ended up divorced.”
In addition to adapting to single parenthood as a teenager, Catherine faced challenges in providing for herself and her daughter in the wake of one of the worst droughts in Zimbabwe’s recent history.
“I know it would be tough raising Immaculate on my own,” says Catherine, “but it was even harder because of the drought.”
In 2014, Chinamasa clinic in Mutasa referred Immaculate to WFP’s prevention of stunting program. Each month, from October 2014 to date, Catherine received a nutritionally-fortified corn-soya porridge mix for her daughter, whose condition really started to improve.
“At the age of 12 months, Immaculate weighed 7.9 kg, and now she’s 9.5 kg,” says Catherine.
WFP’s prevention of stunting programme provides nutritional support to infants below the age of two. This period of life, often called the “window of opportunity,” is critical for the prevention of chronic malnutrition, or stunting. Beyond this age, the damage – both physical and mental – is often irreversible, and can inhibit a child from reaching his or her full potential as an adult.
Through the programme, more than 5,000 children between the ages of 6 and 24 months receive the special fortified food on a monthly basis at health centres across Mutasa district. In addition to receiving the nutritional supplement, the mothers and caretakers receive health and nutrition education training.
“The health education talks are helpful for me as a young mother, especially in learning about good hygiene and the importance of a balanced diet,” says Catherine.
In order to provide comprehensive services to vulnerable communities, WFP works with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and non-government organisation Plan International to deliver nutrition assistance and education; it also partners with sister UN agencies FAO, UNICEF, and WHO to deliver services that cut across all sectors. FAO, for example, provides programming to support the livelihoods of families in select wards, enabling them to maintain food security whilst benefiting from the nutritional support for their infants.
The plan is to expand this partnership to other districts, with the ultimate goal of supporting the government in ensuring no child’s life is blighted by stunting.