A healthcare worker assesses a child’s nutrition status using a MUAC band. Photo credit: Sandra Calligaro for Action Against Hunger, Afghanistan.
Nazanin was 17 months old when her health took a rapid turn for the worse. She became feverish, stopped eating and suffered from frequent diarrhea. “I tried to give my daughter some medication I had with me, and to put her in a tight blanket to fade away her fever, but it became worse,” says her mother. A member of the local Family Health Action Group trained by Action Against Hunger visited Nazanin’s home and assessed her nutrition status using a colour-coded armband known as a MUAC band. She found the little girl to be in a state of Severe Acute Malnutrition and instructed her mother to take her to the nearest health facility for help.
In Afghanistan’s Ghor province, Nazanin’s condition is common. Decades of war have destroyed infrastructure and eliminated employment opportunities, leaving much of the population suffering from grave physical and psychological trauma and without access to basic resources. Ghor is among the provinces most heavily impacted by food security shocks, meaning families struggle to provide the quantity and variety of food needed to keep their children healthy. Undernutrition, both chronic and acute, is high among children under five. Over half the children in this age group suffer from stunting, a condition resulting in low height-for-age that holds children back from reaching their full physical and cognitive potential.
Through the Improved Nutrition in Afghanistan project, funded by Global Affairs Canada, Action Against Hunger has successfully treated hundreds of children like Nazanin suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition. The project aims to reduce death and disease among children, using an integrated and holistic approach that goes beyond providing immediate food access to address multiple underlying causes of malnutrition. These include lack of access to safe drinking water, which can lead to deadly diarrhea and waterborne diseases, and maternal depression, which can impede a mother’s ability to feed and care for her children. The project has helped local health facilities improve delivery of nutrition services and trained nearly 800 mothers and community health workers to correctly identify malnutrition using the MUAC band.
At the health facility, Nazanin’s mother warned the nutrition counsellor that she was too poor to afford treatment for her daughter and was relieved when the counsellor explained that the services provided were free of charge. “At this moment, I felt very happy,” she says. While Nazanin began her recovery under the watchful care of the health facility staff, her mother, who never had the opportunity to learn to read or write, received guidance on proper nutrition for children. The counselor shared key messages on breastfeeding and explained how a varied diet would help improve Nazanin’s nutrition status. “I was following what the nutrition counselor told me, and I could see gradual improvement in each visit. At the last two visits, my Nazanin was feeling much healthier and she is smiling to me, which is never less than a world for me,” she says.
“Thanks to the health facility workers and all those people who have trained women in the community to detect health issues among children in the communities. I am so blessed for having such good people around me that helped me to get back my sweetest daughter,” she says.
The Improved Nutrition in Afghanistan project that benefited Nazanin is funded by Global Affairs Canada. Action Against Hunger teams reinforce Family Health Action Groups (FHAGs) and train them on hygiene promotion including proper handwashing, personal hygiene, environmental hygiene, food hygiene and proper use of latrines, as well as malnutrition detection.
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