Fifty-eight percent of children in Timor-Leste experience restricted growth due to malnutrition, the third worst place in the world for stunted growth, according to a 2013 UNICEF report. The impact of stunting on both physical and mental development is mostly irreversible after a child reaches the age of two.
Sometimes it’s simply a case of not enough food, but often the available food does not provide enough nourishment. Diets can consist of little more than the basic staples. Many children eat only rice, cassava and corn when families are unable to afford meat, eggs or dairy.
Limited health services and poor hygiene make the problem worse. So do inadequate child feeding practices.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life, but Timor-Leste’s latest Democratic and Health Survey (2009-10) revealed the rate to be only 52 percent. In 2012, that rate lifted to 61 percent in World Vision’s Maternal and Child Health (MCH) project areas in Bobonaro district.
Our nutrition programs
Our efforts in nutrition are part of our MCH programs and focus on three outcomes:
- Improving mothers’ and children’s nutrition status
- Protecting pregnant women and children from infection and disease
- Facilitating access to essential health services.
The key elements are:
- WV International’s health and nutrition ‘7-11’ strategy. This is based around seven key interventions that focus on the mother and 11 that focus on children under two. We emphasise proven and cost-effective practices at the primary health care level
- A Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Health and WVTL covers coordination and joint health messaging on topics such as nutrition
- As a community-based NGO, WVTL gives mothers and caregivers information on cooking methods, good hygiene practices, and how to prepare a balanced, sufficient diet. To help pass on the information we set up mothers’ clubs for expectant women and young mothers
- This work can lead to community health volunteers or WV staff making follow-up home visits to vulnerable households
- Through training for health workers and volunteers, we can bring to communities the Ministry of Health’s technical protocols on newborn care; management of pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria; growth monitoring; and micronutrient powders
- To address chronic malnutrition, we take a ‘food-based approach’ which means encouraging families to provide vitamin- and mineral-rich food through kitchen gardens or other food security activities that deliver better incomes and more nutritious food.
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