Better Diets Combat High Malnutrition Rates in Ethiopia

Speeches Shim

A women’s care group gathers to discuss health and nutrition practices.
A women’s care group discusses health and nutrition practices.
Health and nutrition instruction make an impact
“Many mothers have seen benefits of proper child spacing, exclusive breastfeeding, and nutrition practices.”

January 2016—Ethiopia is facing a significant humanitarian crisis, largely resulting from insufficient rainfall exacerbated by El Niño climatic conditions. One way the U.S. Government supports a robust response to the crisis is through the Government of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program. The safety net targets the most food-insecure households—which are often the worst-affected by drought—by providing timely, regular transfers of cash or food for six months each year in exchange for work on public projects. Beneficiaries participate in projects to improve agriculture; health; natural resource management; nutrition; community savings groups; and water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. To address increased household food insecurity brought on by the current drought, the program has expanded to assist additional beneficiaries throughout the country.

In the highlands of Ethiopia, malnutrition affects 44 percent of children under 5, and as many as 81 percent of all cases of child undernutrition go untreated.

To help change this reality, USAID is supporting nutrition interventions aimed at pregnant and lactating women and children under 5. As a result, thousands of Ethiopian families are becoming healthier and are better able to support themselves.

Serke*, an instructor of a women’s care group, is excited to be sharing her knowledge with community members. “Many mothers have seen benefits of proper child spacing, exclusive breastfeeding, and nutrition practices,” she says.

Serke gathers weekly with pregnant and lactating women and young children to teach critical lessons about maternal and child health and nutrition.

With the help of trained project officers, community health workers, lead mothers and care groups, improved health and nutrition practices are sparking change across communities in the Amhara region. Beneficiaries learn about proper nutrition during pregnancy, breastfeeding, diversifying nutrition, the importance of essential vitamins and minerals, family planning, hand washing and other hygiene practices.

“I learned things like how iodized salt improves brain development, and that feeding butter to newborns is not healthy,” explains Serke.

Through nutrition education at the community level, families are seeing results. Beneficiaries report that, after adapting improved diets, they have seen decreased levels of malnutrition and diarrhea.

Women are also attending health clinics more often during pregnancy and learning the importance of taking care of their newborns. Among pregnant women participating in the program, the percentage of those who had at least one antenatal visit increased from just 37 percent to 95 percent from 2011 to 2015.

The project also educates “key influencers” such as grandmothers and male partners on how to be supportive of family planning and health and nutrition practices to ensure their children and grandchildren grow up strong and healthy.

“If a husband were to pressure his wife to have more children, she can reinforce the messages we learned in the care groups,” says one mother. She says her husband now helps out with other activities traditionally done by women, such as buying eggs. As a result, these key influencers have the potential to create behavioral changes that will impact their families long after their children are grown.

Care groups often serve a dual purpose, with women creating village savings and loan groups to help them pool money and to act as a safety net during periods of hardship. Families can use this money to purchase essential, nutritious foods instead of having to skip meals or reduce food consumption—leading to more sustained food security in the long run.

The project, funded by USAID’s Office of Food for Peace and implemented by Food for the Hungry and the Organization for the Rehabilitation and Development of Amhara, targets 377,000 beneficiaries. It is part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative and supports the Government of Ethiopia-managed Productive Safety Net Program, which addresses the basic food needs of approximately 7.9 million chronically food-insecure people in Ethiopia. Since 2013, USAID has helped over 200,000 people graduate from the program, and over the last 10 years, has helped reduce chronic food insecurity among more than 1.5 million people by providing more than $500 million in assistance.

*Full name not available.


Follow @USAIDFFP, @USAIDEthiopia, on Flickr, on YouTube, on Facebook