Victoria Manyama, 24, holds her 2-year-old daughter Makanaka’s hand, to measure the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC). As Victoria watches on nervously, it takes just a few seconds for GOAL staff to determine that her child is malnourished.
Victoria’s concern was shared by thousands of families across Zimbabwe. When Covid-19 induced lockdowns were imposed, families were hit hard. The majority of people in the high-density suburbs of the country’s capital, Harare, survive on a hand-to-mouth basis, so disruption of informal work left people struggling to put food on the table. Children were badly affected, as inadequate access to nutritious food led to malnutrition.
Identifying malnutrition can be difficult for parents without a MUAC measuring tape, or the knowledge to use it. Seeing this, GOAL teams in Zimbabwe sought local community health workers in Harare to help support local families and raise awareness of infant malnutrition. 59-year-old Shailet Maravanyika volunteered to help her community in Kuwadzana.
“I am a community health worker with over 34 years experience. I was trained and supported on passing on child growth monitoring and malnutrition identification techniques as part of the LINKAGES programme. I’m also helping mothers with malnourished children here in Harare.”
The LINKAGES Programme
Shailet is supported by GOAL’s LINKAGES programme, funded by European Union Humanitarian Aid. The programme aims to improve child nutrition in vulnerable communities in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo.
LINKAGES provides training and capacity-building on the identification and treatment of severe malnutrition in children under the age of five. As a result of the programme nurses and community health workers are now receiving invaluable support to serve their local community.
Simple Solutions: MUAC Tape
“Most mothers do not know that their babies are unhealthy,” says Shailet, “as they did not get to the clinic. Child growth monitoring became less of a priority because of the pandemic. When restrictions were eased, most mothers were afraid and still did not go with their children to clinics. “
“I distributed MUAC tape and imparted knowledge on how to use it to mothers in their homes. If the tape shows green, it means the child is healthy. But yellow and red mean they should seek medical treatment immediately. The idea is to identify malnutrition before the MUAC tape shows red, which is severe acute malnutrition.”
“During the home visits, I also educate mothers on the proper feeding regime for their babies. Some have stable incomes to access the right food but they lack the knowledge on what’s best to feed their babies. I advise them to give them food that has a diversity of nutrients including traditional foods.”
Financial Support to Improve Nutrition
To support families and prevent child malnutrition from occurring, GOAL teams are also providing financial assistance in the form of cash-based transfers. The scheme ensures families can afford to buy healthy, nutritious food in times of economic hardship.
The scheme is having a huge impact according to Ladisclous Machona, a local nutritionist who assists in treating the malnourished children referred by Shailet.
“We used to have cases of relapse, but we are observing a decrease. I believe it is in part because of the cash-based transfer, which is supporting mothers with basic needs,” he said.
“At the clinic, the rate of children returning with repeated malnutrition went from 50% down to 12% in one year.”
While financial support ensures families can access nutritious food, education also plays a crucial role. Economic hardship continues to create nutritional challenges in Zimbabwe. Thankfully, with the support of the LINKAGES programme, community health workers like Shailet are ensuring at-risk infants are identified early and given the best possible medical care.