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04.07.2005 Regional News

Pilot Project on Nutrition and Food Security tackles poverty

GNA

Kadjebi (V/R) July 4, GNA - The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has initiated a Community-Based Nutrition and Food Security Project (CBNFSP) in four selected districts as an intervention to tackle poverty through nutrition and food security.

The project, which is being implemented by the Nutrition Unit of the GHS with funding from the World Bank, is aimed at ensuring high level of nutrition for children under five years and mothers in their reproductive ages.

The selected districts are Kadjebi, Sefwi-Wiawso, Bongo and Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abrem, where people comprising community volunteers, nurses and Environmental Sanitation Officers have been trained to provide growth-monitoring services in the various beneficiary communities.

To ascertain the level of progress of the project and developments on a micro credit loan scheme intended to support mothers to ensure quality nutrition, Mr Kofi Adjei Nitim, District Chief Executive (DCE) of Kadjabi District, at a three-day forum over the weekend commended the Government and the World Bank for selecting the district for the project.

He said the project had provided training for a total of 144 people comprising 124 community volunteers, 16 nurses and four environmental sanitation officers to provide growth-monitoring services in the various communities.

"Clearly, the impact of the project on the lives of beneficiary communities has been remarkable, as a general improvement in the health status of children has been recorded."

He said the project had resulted in the reduction in malnutrition levels from 26 per cent in May 2003 to 11 per cent in May 2005. Mr Ntim noted that the empowerment of mothers in the district in nutritional issues had led to the concentration on the use of locally adapted nutritious weaning foods, instead of spending their meagre and limited recourses on foreign foods for children.

He said awareness on nutritional issues had greatly increased, while child care-giving practices had also improved.

Mr Ntim said women had become more conscious of health issues and personal hygiene and the use of iodated salt and local food to prepare balanced diets had been noted to have significantly improved. "Children who are brought to growth promotion sessions are immunised on schedule and this accounts for the district's high performance in the 2003 National Immunisation Day (NID) programme, as one of the best in the country.

He said counselling received by mothers and caregivers at growth promotion sessions and follow-up visits to homes had built their capacities to be able to identify malnutrition issues and address them. He gave the assurance that the District Assembly was committed to ensuring the sustainability of the project, should Government and the World Bank withdraw further funding at the end of this year.

Mrs Hannah Agyei, Project Coordinator, Nutrition Unit, GHS, stated that poor nutrition during childhood had been identified as one of the leading causes of poverty, since the affected persons either suffered mental or other health problems resulting in low productivity. "It has been ascertained that every loss of height affects a person's productivity by about 10 per cent," she said.

She said the Government sought a World Bank loan, under the Learn and Innovation programme, to address three key areas - Nutrition, Streetism and Poverty monitoring.

Mrs Agyei explained that 10 communities each were selected by the four Districts for the project on a pilot basis, after which assistance would be withdrawn for the beneficiary communities to run the project. She stated that initially training programmes were organised for volunteer Growth Promoters (GP), who worked together with health personnel to provide counselling on proper nutrition, encourage good health and sanitation practices and offered weighing sessions for children under five years.

"An amount of 500 million cedis was also provided to the Kadjebi District, as seed money to provide micro credit to assist mothers in their businesses. This helps the women to provide quality food for the families."

She commended the Kadjebi District for ensuring a downward trend in malnutrition of children between the ages of zero and five years. However, she stressed that the community must work towards the sustenance of the project, should further funding be withdrawn by December this year.

Mr Prosper Oye, Focal Person for the Project, said a number of strategies including the maintenance of a community revolving fund to enable others to benefit, establishment of community Implementation Committees (CICs), retraining of Group Promoters (GP) and loan recovery strategies to ensure repayment were on course. She attributed the falling performance of some communities to their lukewarm attitude towards the project, as some mothers refused to exclusively breastfeed their babies or attend the clinics leading to high malnutrition.

Others also refused to use iodated salts, the insecticide treated bed nets and other preventive measures.

Mr Oye called for the involvement of the chiefs and traditional leaders of all the communities to ensure the sustenance of the project and to ensure good health for children in the District. Mr Cosmos Abiew, Director, Christian-Based Rural Action Network (CBRAN), an NGO, through which the loans are managed, noted that a high recovery rate was important for the sustainability of the project. He said though most beneficiary communities had achieved more than 90 per cent recovery rate, other communities, which were predominantly farmers had pleaded for extension of time to allow them to sell their farm produce before repayment.

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