Improving nutrition and reducing stunting in children - low growth for age - is not easy. Part of the trick is getting parents to understand what difference a healthy diet can make for them and their youngsters.
Semonkong - That a man can enjoy eggs while his wife and daughters endure a poor diet is commonplace is some parts of Lesotho.
“We have many families keeping chickens to lay eggs in this area,” said Masekhohola Nkunyane, a nurse at St Leonard Clinic in Semonkong. “Eggs are a delicacy preserved only for men in some households. This is because of an old belief that, if eaten by women and girls, they can cause problems.”
Nkunyane outlined some of the factors which she says can lead to malnutrition among both adults and children: poor diet as a result of particular cultural beliefs, a lack of knowledge about nutrition, poor cooking methods, overall food insecurity and the high number of people living with HIV.
She was speaking during a visit by WFP to the clinic to discuss how best to help the community understand the benefits of healthy eating and of growing fresh vegetables at home.
More than 2000 HIV/AIDS and TB patients receiving treatment at the clinic get monthly rations of fortified blended food from WFP. The provision of Super Cereal and Super Cereal Plus for some 64,000 people throughout Lesotho, is made possible by donations from South Africa and Japan.
Semonkong, which is about 115km from the capital Maseru, is well known for its thriving livestock sector and in particular, the farmers’ knack for production of Merino sheep and Angora goats.
However, slaughtering animals for household consumption is rare.
As in other parts of rural Lesotho, the sheep are kept for wool and goats for mohair. At times, farmers sell them when they need to pay school fees or when there is a funeral.
St Leonard Clinic sees many cases of malnutrition and of stunting among children. Stunting manifests itself as low growth for age. The condition is irreversible but can be prevented during the crucial 1,000 days from conception to two years of age.
“We’ve noticed that many mothers feed their babies mainly with papa (maize meal porridge) and motoho (a traditional sour porridge),” she said. “Instead we’re encouraging exclusive breastfeeding for six months and complementary feeding for another six months with foods such as fortified porridge, mashed potatoes, vegetable soup and boiled eggs.”
According to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare Annual Joint Review Report (2011) as many as 17 percent of deaths among children aged under 12 in Lesotho were attributable to under-nutrition.
Lesotho has one of the highest rates of stunting among children below the age of two in the southern Africa region: 39 percent. Anaemia threatens 47 percent of children aged between 6 and 59 months and 26 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 year. Anaemia is responsible for a tenth of maternal deaths, which stand at 1,155 per 100,000 live births - the highest in southern Africa.